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Blessings!

3 Questions on Motivation That Can Move Your Story Forward

A few weeks ago, I met a Christian Creative friend at a local coffee shop. As we settled into the conversation and polished off our Tim Horton’s coffees, she said the words that inspired this post: “I’ve gone back to a story I’ve been writing for years, but I’m stuck! I don’t know what to do.”

I like to coach writers whenever I can, so I was immediately interested in learning more about her problem. Usually, the solution is hidden in the information they share about why they’re stuck or how they got stuck. So, I listened a while and then asked: “What’s your story’s main conflict?”

When she couldn’t give a clear answer, I knew we’d found the answer to her problem. Of course, there are many reasons writers get stuck. But, for her, struggling to define the story’s conflict and, consequently, its impact on her character was a big issue. Because I was able to help her, I decided to write this post to help others facing a problem.

To do that, we’ll focus on one aspect of story-writing: conflict. More specifically, we’ll look at using your main character’s motivation to generate the conflict that will take your story to the next level. An in-depth discussion on motivation is beyond the scope of this post, but here are 3 questions that could help you figure out the right recipe for your project.  

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Is your Main Character’s motivation clear?

Essentially, motivation is what drives us from one state or circumstance to another. It can be an inner motivation (ex. A woman choosing to remain in a bad relationship for fear of being alone) or an external motivation (ex. An agoraphobic scientist chooses to leave his lab after discovering he’s the only one who can stop a pandemic).

Without motivation, our lives would be dull and very little would be accomplished; we would never change. The same goes for our characters. Without a force pushing them to or away from something, there isn’t much for them to do. Also, without conflict, a writer doesn’t have much of a story to tell—at least, not a very interesting one.

Think about your main character. You might have decided their gender, what they wear, their character traits and quirks, where they work, and where they live. All essential elements in character design. But what influences their choices? Specifically:

What does he want to stop (or have happen) at all costs?

For what or whom would he die to protect?

What is his deepest fear? Regret? Joy?

Once a writer figures out the answers to those kinds of questions, and by including them in the plot, he can develop a much more dynamic, engaging story.  

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Is your MC’s motivation threatened by the story’s crisis?

Every story needs at least one major crisis that creates stress or a turning point for its characters. Without it a story risks being boring, giving your audience few reasons to continue reading.

If you’re stuck in your creative process, or have a boring main character and don’t know how to activate him, why not attack his motivation? Doing that puts him on a collision course with the very thing he fears most. This causes tension and raises the stakes.

Now, you have a story!

Remember Frodo? In The Lord of the Rings, he was tasked to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom where it could be destroyed. He was chosen because he was meek and, therefore, more immune to its corrupting power than the others in his group. But, over time, even he fell prey to the ring—to near disastrous results. Every time he showed signs of weakness, we wondered, “Is he going to fall, too? And what happens if he does?!” That kind of hook will drive your readers to keep turning pages.

Does your MC resolve their main conflict?

When designing your crisis, keep in mind that your MC will need a proper resolution to the conflict he’ll struggle with over the course of the book. This usually means that the MC solves the problem. For example, he stopped the mega-virus from destroying the world, or kept the Holy Grail out of the wrong hands. If the MC doesn’t solve the problem, then perhaps he learns an important lesson that makes the whole experience worthwhile. For example, though he isn’t ready to do it yet, he learns that it is possible to forgive the parent who abused him in his youth. The resolution doesn’t have to result in a happy ending, as long as it satisfies the nature of the MC’s conflict.

The point is, when you get to the end of your story, your reader is going to want closure. They have spent days or weeks reading about the MC and worrying over how they would overcome their trials and tribulations. To some readers, favorite characters are like friends! Writing a fitting resolution allows your reader to end the story on a positive, satisfying note. Help them savor the reading experience. So, spend time figuring this one out. You and your readers won’t regret it.  

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Conflict is a book’s ‘spice of life’, and our characters’ motivations are the strings writers pull to generate it. When used well, the combination can inspire creativity, while elevating a mediocre story into a great one.

How about you? What story-writing tools do you use to get ‘unstuck’? Please share your experiences.

–Delia T

Part 2: What’s God Got to Do With It? Motivation Matters

In the first part of this series, we talked about our identity in Christ and how that relates to our gifts. When Jesus died on the cross, it was to buy us back from the curse of sin. When we chose to follow Him, we became God’s children and committed our lives to His service. The Holy Spirit enables us to walk with God and empowers us to fulfill our life’s mission until the day we pass on. That’s the general purpose for our earthly existence. How we live that out on a daily basis, including the expression of our creative calling, needs closer inspection.

At the opening of this series I’d asked:  Why do we create? There are a ton of reasons, but it’s likely that when we examine them, our main motivation will have something to do with us.

‘I love to write/sing/dance…’

‘I just can’t help composing/singing/writing…’

‘Art is who I am…’

‘I’d go nuts if I couldn’t express myself…’

Etc.

Notice the ‘I’ in those statements?

 

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Is it wrong to find pleasure in our gifts? I don’t think so. God loves us and He wants us to be happy. But, I think it’s important to note that God is the true source of our peace and joy and that any other source will be incomplete and, ultimately, unsatisfying.

 

Galatians 5:22-23  (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

 

Unconvinced? Well, here are a few questions to consider. What happens when you don’t sell many books? Or the post you spent ages writing for your blog doesn’t get any likes? Or your book proposal is refused, or your song rejected by a producer?

What about the time spent away from your family and the money wasted on products or services that failed to deliver?

What about those feelings of loneliness or confusion when nothing works?

What about when your dream fails?

Do you get angry? Bitter? Are you exhausted? Anxious?

Are you disappointed in God?

 

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In case you’re wondering, I’ve been there. It’s humbling to admit, but it would be wrong of me to pretend otherwise. I’ve seen my dreams melt away, I’ve sacrificed time and money only to see nothing come of it. I’ve cried out to God asking, ‘Why?’, as recently as a few days ago.

And the answer has consistently been: ‘Look up. Deny yourself, and follow Me.’

I thought I was humble. I thought I was submitting myself to His will and doing everything right. It was only when everything ground to a halt and I had nothing going for me that I could see how much of my self-worth was tied to needing to succeed. Once it was just me and God, I could begin to see that I am who I am because of Him. Jesus is my righteousness. If I never write another book or blog post again, if this blog fails or I never score that big book deal, or whatever, He’ll accept me just as I am.

He accepts you just as you are, too.

If you are tired, overworked, frustrated, anxious—ultimately disappointed in God, ask ourself why. Rejection and failure hurt, sure. It sucks to be mentally and emotionally drained from going full-tilt for so long. But, listen. This is the time to throw yourself at the foot of the cross and ask God for help. 

 

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Here are two points to reflect on:

We run into trouble when we think that success is the result of our efforts

We are called to work. We are called to be  good stewards of our gifts. And know that we are accountable to Him for how we use them. (Matthew 25:14-30, parable of the talents)

But, we have to remember that God is in control and, if we let Him, He will see to everything, including the results. The moment we let our identity and sense of well-being depend on the results of our work or efforts, we’re in trouble.

We run into trouble when we don’t fully submit to the Lord

This is an ongoing, daily process. It is also impossible to do on our own. But with God’s help, we can.

James 4:7 (NIV)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

The importance of submitting our motivations to God has become increasingly clear to me. We might want to do good by reaching tons of people for His kingdom, create programs, build incredible ministries, but if there is any self-indulging or self-pleasing motivations involved, our plans are in danger because it opens the door for pride.

Psalm 147:6 (NKJV)

The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked down to the ground.

 

So, how does that affect us?

If you are stuggling to hear from God, find that your ministry has stalled, feel stuck, lost or confused, then maybe this is His way of getting your attention. I know this has been true for me. The more I submit to His correction and discipline, the more I discover His grace, wisdom, and kindness. God sees everything, including the incoming roadblocks and the weaknesses in our character, and He deals with us in accordance to His love and wisdom.

God is concerned about our success but even more so about our well-being and our relationship with Him. When we walk with Him, our lives will become the greatest testimonies of His greatness, and the works our our hands the physical manifestation of that truth.

Here are a few verses that have helped me :

James 4:3 (NIV)

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

 Mark 14:38

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

 Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

I’d like to know what you think. Can you relate? How have you coped with disappointment, overwork, stress, etc? What verses encourage you? What lessons have you learned through your creative challenges? Let me know by leaving a message below!

Blessings!

–Delia

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