Stories need to be driven by choices and consequences. The consequences are the external stuff, but choices are internal.
And nothing kills a story's investment like a lack of choices.
the key, I think, is making sure the choices your characters make are
both A. a legitimate choice between two or more options and B. a logical
expression of the character.
The first part of that comes from
not making it seem like the plot is just dragging the character by the
nose. If there aren't real choices, then it's old-school video-game
plotting. The character just moves forward from scene to scene, with
events dictated to them, rather than having any real impact on the
The second part is a counterbalance to that, in that if
you're writing the character correctly, it's clear that the choice they
make is the only one they really are capable of making.
It's not unlike the predestination/free will argument. You can make any choice you want, but this is the choice that you are going to make, because that's who you are.
choices tend to fall into three categories: Need To Do, Want To Do and
Ought To Do. Internal conflict sparks from those three things being out
of alignment. Need To Do are the pure survival-necessity choices.
Lizard-brain reaction. "I'm running out of air-- I need to get to the
surface!" "This guy's trying to kill me and I can't get out-- I need to
fight back!" Want To Do are emotional choices-- rational thought is
involved, but the emotion behind the thoughts are the drivers. "My
friend's in trouble-- I want to help them!" "That's the guy who killed
my father-- I want to kill him!" Ought To Do are the higher-thinking
choices, the moral choices. "This person is trying to seduce me away
from the mission-- I ought to walk away from them." "Killing him now
will put my friends at risk-- I ought to let him walk away."
often the "Ought To" choice is the objective "best" choice... but that
doesn't mean it will be the right choice for the character to make. In
fact, good storytelling often comes from characters making the wrong
choice, objectively, but the right choice for the character. That's
key: don't have a character make a stupid choice just so the plot can
Unless it's right for the character to do something stupid.
See you all in the word mines.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Perils of the Writer: Inner Motivation and Inner Conflict
Posted by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Labels: Marshall Ryan Maresca
Marshall Ryan Maresca is a Fantasy and Science Fiction Novelist, as well as a playwright, living in South Austin with his wife and son. He is the author of the Maradaine Novels:
The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages , The Alchemy of Chaos, An Import of Intrigue , The Holver Alley Crew (Forthcoming), The Imposters of Aventil (Forthcoming)
His work also appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. He also has had several short plays produced.
Visit his website at mrmaresca.com