Excerpt: Do Your heroes Ever Have a Problem with Motivation?
Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Getting up in the morning is hard enough without trying to save the world.
How do superheroes do it?
Do they struggle?
Does Superman? Does Spider-Man? How about Black Panther?
What reasons do your characters have for getting out of bed?
Let's bring it closer to home.
Why do most of us get up?
Why do you get up?
Sadly, motivation is not always conveniently written on the wall.
Turns out, it depends on who you are and what matters to you.
Usually, doing something unpleasant, like getting up for work, is an obligation with a purpose, like providing for yourself or family. Like any responsibility, it can be hard to find the inspiration to get started.
Then it becomes about, how to keep going.
Heroes, and other characters, often start out their journey with simple motivations, but they quickly become complex.
What is Motivation?
According to the American Psychology Association, motivation is "the process of starting, directing, and maintaining physical and psychological activities."
It sounds simple until you read the second sentence.
"This includes mechanisms involved in preferences for one activity over another and the vigor and persistence of responses."
That word mechanism implies machines, processes, and those are never simple when they are based on vigor and persistence.
The writing team at Blue Alchemy Studios was talking about the motivations for our characters during a recent meeting.
On this day we were talking about what these characters want. By establishing the goals of our supporting characters and our main characters we could map out potential conflicts and tensions.
A lengthy discussion revealed that by establishing the priorities for the characters in our story, we could decide what actions they would be willing to take and how far they will go to achieve them. Done correctly, and we would have a better understanding of what drives the characters we are writing. Characters who can make bold claims because they believe them.
What are Cornerstones?
In the recent HBO series Westworld, humans travel to a customized theme park where they can live out their fantasies, no matter how illicit. There are no consequences. That's the story, for now
During one episode, a technician named Elsie explains how the characters portrayed by androids must have a foundation in order to help guests suspend their sense of disbelief. These "hosts" establish a connection for the guests that allows them to invest in the story. "Backstories do more than amuse guests; they anchor the host," she says. "It's their cornerstone."
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Writer Rachel Scheller supports the word and explores its usage in the Writers Digest article What's Your Character's Cornerstone.
Seller relates to the concept because a cornerstone's roots lie in architecture.
In masonry the cornerstone was the first stone set in a foundation, influencing all other pieces, and if uneven the structure would never have a sound foundation.
Cornerstones were central to the construction of churches. A cornerstone's exact
measurements exemplified superior craftsmanship. This led to comparative analogy in religious teachings featuring Jesus the carpenter and architect of the church, and ideas about the cornerstones of faith. Peter, a follower of Jesus, was called the rock that the present-day Catholic church was built on.
The guild of builders named FreeMasons ceremoniously installed cornerstones to celebrate the beginning of construction. They were marked with the seal of the masons and can still be observed at national exhibits like the Washington Monument.
It's a good place to start, but only if your characters don't move.
Why Characters Require Two Motivations (or More)
Monuments have it easy. Like all stone structures, they only require the one cornerstone. This is because buildings of stone are not designed to move.
Once they are built, they stay in the same place.
Characters move. This means their thoughts, beliefs, and actions are complex and require more than one anchor to define them.
The cornerstones of the characters we love anchor our connection to them through their beliefs. This does not mean that the cornerstones of our characters are not in conflict. In fact, it is the conflict that drives our characters.
Much like the conflict that drives our own lives. We don't want to get up in the morning. But we do. The reason why is complex.
The same is true for the characters in Planet Rise. Our main character Nia Kasai is facing a conflict that is a direct result of her two cornerstones, Duty and Family.
Nia is the eldest daughter and the member of an order sworn to protect her world from danger. Her responsibilities have always included looking after her sister and honoring her role as a member of the Order.
Now that she is in the Order and her sister is an adult these two cornerstones are at odds. Nia's choices will decide the fate of her world and the world of her sister and family.
Choosing family means sacrificing the belief that she has spent her whole life working for, it could mean the end of her world.
Choosing her duty will sacrifice her ability to be there for her family and protect her sister from looming threats.
Storytelling is about revealing the motivations that create conflict. The actions a character is willing to take did not form out of the aether.
Motivations reveal the dimensions of a character that cannot be shaped by a cookie cutter.
They bring characters into conflict with heroes and villains alike, by showing the tension that competing desires create.
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