With the announcement about the upcoming Anthology of Short Stories for Indie Authors, I find myself thinking about what it takes to put together a story. In the case of the short story, the writer is forced to create a hero who is three-dimensional. The success of the story rests firmly on the shoulders of your MC.
In an earlier post, I talked about how stories are character-driven. As such, each story centers around your main character. In a short story, it is critical for you, as a writer, to understand what motivates your MC.
As authors, we want our characters to be believable and, more importantly, to make sense in a fictional universe. The best way we can accomplish this is to understand how our MC relates to the world. How would they react given any situation? (There IS a purpose behind completing Character Questionnaires.)
I write mostly legal thrillers, and I know my readers will want to know ‘the why’ behind why the characters in any story committed their crimes.
It is the motivation that I build the story around. Occasionally, there seems to be no right or logical reason for the actions. But as the story develops and we learn more about the hero and their life, things become clear.
Remember that fiction is truthful more than actual life. In the real world, people can do random things without reason, but in a story, your characters should have a purpose.
Your readers read fiction because it is not like real life. They want a story that makes sense.
So, what Is Motivation?
According to Oxford Dictionaries, it is: ‘A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.’
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘Character is plot, plot is character.’
With great motivations, your characters will take action. It is the action that leads to conflict, consequences, and sacrifices. It is these things that will keep readers invested in the story and care about your character. The ability to overcome these obstacles and learn about their strengths and weaknesses leads to character development. Readers love this.
And if the reader loves it, they will keep reading, turning the pages, and remembering the author who brought them real emotion.
Your character needs to be compelling. Give your MC a mission, and they will drive the story. Your character’s mission is the backbone of the plot.
The mission acts as a heartbeat in your short story. With each thud, your MC works to achieve success. You can hear the blips on the EKG as the character moves in logical steps from the beginning, through the middle, and finds the climax of the story.
A lot of things can be a goal or a mission. But in this case, it is imperative to remember that motivations only work if they matter and if the character has something to win or lose. As an author, you need to understand what the consequences are for your hero if they fail to meet these goals.
Therefore, motivations need to be complicated and irrational, but they need to be believable.
I think the best motivations are those that have both physical and emotional elements. Think of the addict (physical) who needs to get clean to be happier (emotional.)
To help you to jump start your short story, I have a list of the kinds of motivations I think will help you develop a strong story line.
- Plotting revenge.
- Surviving a disaster.
- Surviving a disease.
- Surviving a breakup.
- Saving the world/town/community.
- Saving a loved one.
- Saving themselves.
- Saving a relationship.
- Building a better world.
- Pursuing a love interest.
Once you begin to think about these types of story goals, your mind can come up with more and more. Remember that you can make these motivations positive or negative, depending on your character.
Every good story has a GREAT character. These heroes have the strong motivation that allows you to build a plot that will take you from the beginning to the end of your story.
Stay tuned for more tips and techniques on building a great story. I’m very excited to see the submission of other writer’s short stories.