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Sunday, November 30, 2008


Question: How can we solve the "coincidence" problem in our writing? The "he or she just happened to do this or that because that's what needed to happen to move the plot?"

The other day, one of my critique group friends commented on the fact that I often ask "why" questions as part of my comments. Not a bad thing, just something I do. But her comment got me to thinking about "why" I do that, and here's the answer. It's because of motive. All our characters, not just the View Point character, must have a motive--not necessarily to kill someone--but to do everything they do. It's what gives credence to our plot lines, and in many ways, it's what eliminates the dreaded coincidence.

Just think about some of your favorite characters. I bet you can name with very little effort what motivated many of their actions. For instance, what drove "Twilight's" main character, Bella Swan? Love for Edward, love for her parents, love for Jake--love in general.

Now, what about Hermione Granger (a secondary character)? Straight A's and proving herself worthy of magic. Ron Weasley (another secondary character)? Fitting in and friendship.

Can you see how these characteristics equaled their motivations? Or how they are the "truths" that made readers believe?

Finally, I once read a statement that now hovers over everything I write--or critique: "A character can do anything if properly motivated." That's all there is to it.


Anna Maria Junus said...

Great post. Sometimes writers have characters do things just because it's convenient for the writer to have them do that.

On the other hand I think I read somewhere that one coincidence is appropriate since coincidences do happen.

However as LDS writers know, there really are no coincidences, only help from heaven. I think it's easier to get away from stuff if it's established in your book somehow that there is heavenly help.

You still have to be true to your characters.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Ah, motivation! Sometimes a character will do something unexpected, and when we look at their motivation, we learn a whole lot about them we didn't know.