Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Drives You?

When creating characters and designing the direction of the story, every writer must tackle the concept of motivation. The simple formula found in most stories runs along these lines: give the character a desire, figure out what is motivating that person to achieve this goal, put obstacles in their path, and watch them get there in the end. While this may appear to be ridiculously simple, it will keep the reader curious to see how the story pans out.

In the quest to describe characters in terms of goals, I have frequently typed these words into Google: what drives people to succeed? How many times, when engaged in a casual conversation, have you heard a person tell how the great decisions of their lives came to pass? In many cases, a person may have received a great blow, and in their thoughts, they cite that as a reason for the next step.  For instance, the desire to fit in, looms as a great theme in most lives. I recall discussing this with my daughter, as I drove her to school one day. Being that she was in middle school at that particular time in her life, she assured me that in her class, she saw little else. The pecking order of the playground where our flaws, lack of position, and inadequacies are pointed out with great frequency, causes us to form an, 'I'll show them,' attitude. We desire to overcome feelings of inadequacy, and lucky for us, we never seem to run out of them.

Our book club read Behind the Beautiful Forevers this month. The author, Katherine Boo, won the Pulitzer Prize for this outstanding book. While it is a work of non fiction, the staggering descriptive skill, makes the reader absolutely involved in the characters and engrossed in the story. Set in the desperate slums of Mumbai, in a shanty town, by a sewage lake, the garbage pickers fight to maintain their territory in the shadow of the airport and posh, new hotel. Reading while sitting in a comfortable home, in a lovely town, by a beautiful lake, I could not fathom how we could have any driving forces besides putting food on the table and helping those who cannot. The admiration I have for this author who traveled so far afield to understand the dynamic of this group of people, cannot be overstated.

An excerpt from page 35:

" In his first weeks back home, scavenging skills rusty, he took the sandals from the feet of his sleeping father and sold them to Abdul for food. He had consumed five vada pav by the time his father woke to thrash him. Another day, he'd sold his father's cooking pot. His own sandals he'd exchanged for rice, after which there was little left to sell. The hunger cramps could be treated by hits off discarded cigarettes. Lying down also helped. But nothing soothed his apprehension that the hunger was stunting his growth."

Stories of drifters, slackers, and dreamers who suddenly bump into a huge challenge, such as having to fight a war, or cope with a complete change of circumstance, appeal to me too. No matter how adrift a character may seem, they are not without motivation- even if it is to do nothing. When everything changes and they are forced to prove their worth, we often see a hero emerge.  Blockbusters  often feature a single minded protagonist. They are going to reach their goal and phooey on anyone who gets in their way. A more complex story may involve a team player and how they manage to get to the promised land, bringing everyone along with them. The former is easier to write, the latter, more difficult, but if you are a person driven by the relationships you have in your life, you may find it a more interesting story. Jane Austen comes to mind here: in the intertwined family, everyone finds their way, and all is well that ends well.

At the end of the day, what do you want to be known for? Is it money, fame, belonging, recognition for your achievements, or a solid bank of family and friends? According to a quiz I just found on Google, I am driven by relationships. This could explain why I can almost recite Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility , by heart.


1 comment:

elizabethbrinton said...

This is a post script. I would like to thank my dear friend, Mary who gave me this book for my birthday. One of the greatest fortunes in my life is my friendship and years of book discussions with a women I consider to have a first class mind. Thank you Mary.