This is the final installment in my “motivation” series.
Now that you’ve defined your life motivation, and discovered how that shaped the motivation for your career as a writer, how do you want to feel about that career?
I mean, do you wish to bask in the accolades of the literary community? Maybe you prefer the excitement you create in your reader community each time you release a new book in your murder series. Some of us might desire to feel financially secure with a handful of best-sellers to our credit. Or it’s as simple as the feeling of accomplishment you get when you review the pages you managed to write between fixing the overflowing washer, driving a parent to an eye exam, throwing together supper while talking on the phone to one of your kids’ teachers, and generally being a busy human being reacting with your world.
It’s the feelings, the emotions, and the energy of the writer’s life that makes you get up every morning and start writing… again.
Without those, writing would be just another job, creeping toward a retirement you can barely see on the horizon. Just something to endure. And when it becomes too much, too boring, too everything… it becomes easy to walk away from it forever.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t see your writing as a job to suffer silently until you reach a magic age or year. You see writing as something that forms the very roots of who you are. You have no choice other than to sit down and fill pages with words. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the same way, your characters must feel some emotion. They have to form connections with their families, friends, and enemies that your readers will recognize.
Never be afraid to allow your feelings, emotions, and energy to overflow and fill the lives of your characters, breathing flesh onto the bones of their existence. Your readers will recognize those emotions, the feelings, and energy. They’ll see the mirror you hold up to their lives. They’ll recognize the feelings, emotion and energy that give their own lives meaning.
Until you feel something, your characters will be no more than two-dimensional players on your stage. Until your characters feel something, your readers will feel no connection with them. But once your readers lose themselves in a sigh of remembered romance, a gasp of visceral horror, camaraderie unbroken by disaster – why then, you hold them in the thrall of your storytelling.
Okay, I hear the young writer back in the corner asking, “Can you give us an example?”
Sure thing. Let’s use the television show NCIS as our example. In its tenth season, the show continues to lead the Nielsen Media Research survey week after week. For both live viewing and recorded categories.
Do you think that’s a fluke? No, it’s because the writers (yes, we’re still talking about writing) create and flesh out characters that grow and develop as the years go by. They interact with each other just as we do our friends, siblings, and parents. They care about each other and tease each other. Each of them would die for the other members of their team. Characters do die, and we know the pain and loss will only make the team closer and stronger. And every member of the viewing audience knows this without reservation.
The show works because the writers imbue those characters with personalities, likes and dislikes, quirks and irritants. They have lives they share with each other, while hiding secret loves and pains from their colleagues.
The writers reveal a glimpse of a character’s life here, a hint of intrigue there, and we want to know more. We want to live next door to DiNozzo, so we can peek inside while sauntering past his door. We want to attend a book signing for McGee’s latest novel and see if he will have a lovely lady on his arm when he leaves. Ladies of a certain age are dying to date Ducky. Young women barely of age want to run their fingers through Palmer’s hair to watch him blush. All the guys want to chat up Ziva and prove they’re tough enough to tame her. Me, I want to have fun cracking a case with the quirky Abby. But what I really want is to be friends with someone as focused, dedicated, and loyal, as Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
Oh wait! We forget. These people we think we know so well – yes, the ones we know will squeal with excitement over a new clue, shut down a lecher with one dangerous glance, or squabble like ten-year old siblings – they’re imaginary characters.
But we forget that once we become involved in the feelings and emotions of their imaginary lives. When the words of the show’s writers on the pages of the script, and the way the actors interpret those words, make those characters as real to the viewers as you are to me.
The best books I’ve read, those I’ve remembered for years, are those that engage my feelings and trigger emotions I recognize in my own life. Books that make me weep or laugh. Something to aspire to for all writers. Something all readers desire.
How do you show your characters’ motivations? The What, the Why, and the Emotions and Feelings of their lives? Which book, movie or TV show has engaged your emotions until you feel you really know the characters? Share with us in the comments.
Here’s my disclaimer: No, I don’t have any connection to the ABC television series NCIS (or any other show, for that matter. Sigh.). Yes, I would love to spend a week solving cases with all the fantastic characters, and meeting the people who bring them to life. Likely to happen? “Only the Shadow knows.” It can’t hurt to put that intention out there, can it?