Prepared by: Florence Cardinal and Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 15 Jul 2001
Reposted on: Sat, 12 Jul 2003
Reposted on: Sun, 21 Aug 2005
We have all seen the lists of basic types
of story conflict: person
versus self, person versus nature, and so on. This exercise deals with
person versus self - with inner conflict.
Sometimes, when we are writing (or
reading) we can plainly see the
motivation for a character's behavior. However, often that motivation
only the obvious one. Below that, perhaps going back to something in
character's past, or even something he or she only imagines, is the
reason for the conflict.
Here are a couple of ideas Rhéal
The child facing a dare is torn between fear (including
fear of looking like a coward), pride, and the desire to fit in..
- That dragon is scary and dangerous, but the
question is: will the knight attack, or chicken out?
Here are a couple of my ideas dealing with
Gil seems to be afraid of Mary and won't let her get close to him.
However, when he was a child, his father walked out on his mother and
kids, and his real fear is that he might do the same.
- This is a common plot device: Mark is a real go-getter. He claws
up the corporate ladder, apparently hungry for the money and power. In
truth, he has always felt his father wasn't proud of him and he is
make the old man sit up and take notice.
This week's exercise: In 300 words, show us
how your character's
behaviour is influenced by an obvious goal as well as an underlying
(real) motivation. Try to avoid outright narration or explanation.
Florence Cardinal's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 22 Jul 2001
This was an excellent exercise and most of
you really did well. Some
struggled, as I did, to get the two motivations into it. I know it
easy. I also had this problem when I wrote my exercise. Most of us got
though, I think, although some of the underlying motives were so subtle
took several readings to understand them.
Although this was an interesting and
worthwhile exercise, it wasn't
Rheal and I intended when we came up with it. We were thinking more
the lines of the two motivations being in conflict. This will be an
exercise coming up before too long.
All in all, a valid exercise, and, for the
most part, everyone
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: July 22, 2003
I must admit, I'm always left a little
frustrated when we run this
exercise. I keep thinking the exercise wasn't really clear enough -
then I realize that the truth is that this is a hard topic (and
therefore, a valuable one.)
The exercise was to have a character
demonstrate two different
motivations. The initial intention was to have that character be torn
between those motivations, but somehow the exercise never came out that
way (so we did another exercise titled "Torn" to try again.) The
remaining goal was to have two distinct motivations - either
ones, or a public one and a private one.
Some of the submissions this week did
manage one or the other. In
however, I could only see a single motivation (and surprisingly enough,
it was usually the "hidden" one - as if the writers, in trying to get
there, took the overt motivation for granted..) In fact, in some
submissions, I couldn't find any motivations at all. I could see people
talking, acting, but I had no idea what they were looking for, what
wanted to get.
Why is this?
Well, the easy explanation is that I'm
dense - and I may certainly
missed some motives that were presented too subtly for me.
The next possibility is that, as writers,
we tend to take things for
granted - we tend to assume people will understand what is not said (or
think we said it, because it's so clear in our minds. The opposite of
this, of course, is when people don't get it because it *wasn't* clear
in our minds!)
In some cases, the problem seemed to be
that the motivations shown
not those of the protagonist, but those of another party - not the
character I was watching. As writers, we need to keep in mind who the
point-of-view and central characters are (not necessarily the same),
make sure that comes out in the writing.
Finally, of course, motivations is a hard
topic - it requires a
well-defined character, and defining characters, and having those
characters act consistently, for valid reasons of their own, is just
that easy. (Too often, we try to fit the characters into the plot - we
need to have a something happen because it fits the plot, so that's
the character has to do.) And certainly, trying to do this in the tight
word counts of an exercise is a special challenge (but then, we'll
need to do just that with our minor characters - they too need to act
for reasons of their own!)
So, the message I learn is that this is a
tricky concept, and
one we should continue to explore. I'll ponder how to improve the
exercise or create new ones (suggestions are welcome!), in the
As always, congratulations to everyone who
participated - I'm sure
all learned something about this subject.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.