(I hate myself for using that paraphrased lyrics. I hate myself.)
Motivation is one of those words that gets thrown around for a multitude of reasons. It’s what drives the marathon runner. It’s what keeps the scholarship student’s grades up. It’s what we all hear that our characters all need in order to make for a strong plot. I agree with this, needless to say. A good character has a driving force behind them – usually more than just the stakes at hand. For instance, Frodo’s motivation was not only to destroy the One Ring and save Middle Earth (though that’s a good chunk of it) but also, once on the journey, he has the motivation to get back home and see the Shire again. He needs to keep Sam safe. And – if we’re working on assumptions – he likely doesn’t want to let Gandalf down.
It’s the smaller motivations that make a character jump off the page. Most people will fight when the end of their world is on the line. But what is really keeping them going? What makes them get out of bed in the morning? A promise they made? A memory to honor? What is it that specifically makes them want to fight until the last drop of blood and sweat is shed? That’s more of a mystery.
I’ve got an example from my real life. I like to consider myself a fairly motivated person. I write my blogs, make my videos, go to work, pack my boxes. I’m motivated to publish my books, to make a living with my writing, to be able to save up some money and travel. All big picture items.
But I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m kind of lazy. I like my bed. I hate getting up in the morning. I work the dinner shift at the cafe nine times out of ten and that’s the way I like it. So what was the difference on May 22nd (the day I’m writing this first draft in my notebook) when I woke up at five in the morning and was in my car and on the road by 6:15?
I’m a native Western New Yorker. Like it or not, I was born on the far western edge of the state and I lived there until I was 24 or so. In that time, I worked at a Wegmans for about two and a half years. I shopped there for far longer than that. When I moved out to Ithaca, I may not have kept my job there, but I was a loyal customer. Nothing drastic in my life changed in that realm.
Then I moved here to Richmond. Where there was no Wegmans within a two-hour driving radius.
My family and I were crushed. Sure, they were building a Wegmans locally, but it wouldn’t be open for years! What were we supposed to do until then? We made do with what we had, and continued to count the days until we could return to our familiar halls.
May 22nd. The day the Midlothian Wegmans opened.
I’ll include some of the pictures I took—as I’m sure you can already see – because it’s impossible to imagine the chaos without seeing it. I got there at 6:45, fifteen minutes before the scheduled opening time. The lines you see are around the side and past the back of the building. I can’t imagine when some of these people got there. Cops were directing the traffic for parking. Parking traffic. I kept cracking up. It didn’t seem real.
But this was the store I’d waited a year and a half for. The first company I’d had a serious job with. One of my favorite things about Western New York and it was finally here.
You can bet your butt I stood in that line. And I walked around in the over-crowded aisles, very much the salmon going upstream at times, and got a few favorite items. I’ll probably need to leave shortly (from the time of writing this) to take some of it back to a refrigerator, but I’ll be back after that. Once my drink is done, I’ll see what’s going on next. But I rest easy in the fact that I was there for the opening. I am one of the first customers to walk these floors, to sit in these seats, to purchase this location’s product.
That is the kind of motivation that gets a lazy writer up out of bed after less than six hours of sleep, to come to a grocery store. My mundane, silly, but powerful motivation.
Don’t forget to give your characters those too. Everyone has something they’ll sacrifice their comfort and sleep for. What’s theirs?