A fear of mine has always been that I will write a bad story. So I decided to identify what makes a bad story bad ... so that I never make that mistake.
We’ve all sat through a bad movie or waded through a bad novel. No, not dirty … painful.
You can usually identify the main problem in a bad story. It’s actually really easy to tell.
The hero’s motivation makes no sense.
If the main character seems to want a different thing in each scene, all depending on where the plot is obviously trying to take her, our minds check out. Boring. The story happens to the main character, instead of the other way around. The author knew what “had” to happen, so the hero just happened to want whatever each scene needed her to want. There was no reason to it—she just wanted whatever, as long as the author got that cool action scene to happen exactly like she planned.
The key to writing a compelling story is to clearly establish your hero’s motivation and have it make sense.
Part of what makes a person a person is that they want. You have to know what your character wants, what their will is, and make it specific. Then of course, you make the journey to getting what they want impossibly difficult. Instant conflict. Just add water …
But I was just thinking … establishing clear motivation applies to more than the main character of a novel. Isn’t it important for me to clearly establish my motivation?
In story writing, you find the ultimate goal that the main character wants to achieve by the end of the book. It usually has two parts: the obvious external goal of finding the ark, killing the shark, closing the tesseract; then the less obvious internal goal: proving yourself, overcoming a fear, making a friendship. The character will only be as clear as his/her motivation.
Preachy Side Note:
I can’t help but see the same thing in life. The clearer you make your goals, the clearer your own character will be. You will know who you are, where you are going. Every day will be defined by that motivation, in one way or another.
I’ve really been learning the importance of writing down specific goals, visions. I heard it said that vague dreams produce vague results. If I fail to cement those goals, those desires, then my life will feel as fluid as my vague dreams. If I am to have productive days, a motivated lifestyle, clear results, I need to make those clear visions.
I attended a conference where I heard Terry Savelle Foy, a inspirational speaker, talk about this. Years ago, she was encouraged to write down what she wanted to be in five years … not how to get there, but where she wanted to go. Even though she was in debt, constantly tired, living in fear, and going nowhere fast, she wrote down specific goals about public speaking, finances, and personal confidence. Today she is a front-line motivational speaker, television host, and best-selling author, exuding endless confidence in front of thousands.
As I nail down the plot of my novel, I nail down my visions. If you live day to day without a future already established in your mind, you are keeping invaluable talents bottled up inside of you, never to be released.
Who knew? Maybe writing has some merit, after all.