The Virginia Romance Writers started up with a bang on September 10th. After a quiet summer, they hosted a daylong workshop by Alicia Rasley. As is always the case with their workshops, it was well worth the time.
Alicia Rasley’s topics included character motivation and sentence structuring. I can’t give away all her secrets, but I’ll share ten of the juiciest tidbits.
On character motivation:
1) Make sure it’s your character’s motivation and not yours. Do you want your character to travel to NYC so that he can run into a long lost friend? That’s your motivation, not his. Why would he have wanted to take the trip?
2) Differentiate between goals and motivations. Goals are measurable and concrete. For instance, someone can have a goal of getting straight As in school, or finishing a writing project by a deadline. Motivations are more slippery: maybe a student wants the As because they get money for each A, or maybe it’s because they want to impress a teacher who will write a recommendation for college. Maybe a writer wants to finish a book by a certain date in order to pitch it to agents at a conference, or maybe they want to finish it before their grandmother, who is in hospice, dies. Motivation is the past. Goal is the future is one way to keep it straight.
3) There’s also a difference between internal and external motivations. A character might be saying he wants a gold medal to better the USA’s ranking, but deep down he might really be motivated by an old girlfriend—someone who broke up with him because she didn’t believe the goal was attainable and it was taking up too much of her boyfriend’s time. Give your characters an internal life to add depth to any story. Get to the root of their internal motivations.
4) Motivations and goals can change throughout the story. The mix-up keeps things interesting. You don’t want to write a story where there is a straight line between the statement of the goal and the attainment of it.
5) Distinguish between proactive, which motivates movement toward something, and reactive, which motivates movement away from something. Success is an example of a proactive motivation. Guilt is an example of a reactive motivation. If you create a proactive situation, make sure conflict interferes with the forward movement. If you create a reactive situation, make sure your character has to face whatever they are running away from in the end. Follow through and keep it interesting.
On sentence structure:
1) Avoid the generic, bland and passive. Use “shortstop” instead of “infielder,” for example.
2) Don’t use obscure language unless it has true purpose for the story. Don’t say “traversed the room” when “crossed the room” would work just as well or better.
3) Beware of starting a sentence with a participle, particularly “being” or “having.” When possible, end sentences with the most dramatic term in the sentence.
4) Know your purpose when writing. Is your purpose to inspire? To frighten? Use strong verbs for forceful situations, startling ones for spooky situations, etc.
5) Don’t get bogged down with trying to start each sentence differently. As long as the main clause is clear, and as long as each sentence in the paragraph means something different, you’re sentence structure is probably good.
Bonus thing learned:
The magic rule of three. According to Alicia, the Western mind is trained to respond to groups of three. Things in groups of three (3 tries to help, 3 appearances of a person, etc.) can add resonance and connectivity. Use the magic rule of three during turning points and important scenes.
Hearing that made me want to rework one scene of my WIP…..
Love Trumps Logic