Monday, January 13, 2014

The Philosophy of Writing: Motivation In Action

So last week we introduced the dichotomous relationship between motivation and plot, how the two work together interdependently to facilitate character growth in a story. How each aspect of storytelling influences the mood and flow of a story varies. Motivation and plot aren't two avenues of approach that exist on a spectrum. Not at all. I think we need to look at them as two sides of the same coin, with degrees of integration at any moment. This week I'm going to show you how a narrative can be plot heavy or motivation heavy. The idea here is that I am going to describe an action for a character and then craft a narrative around the action. Remember, the bottom line here, our goal, is to get a character to do something. How we get him/her to do it depends on if the plot leads them there, or if the character is supplied the motivation to do what they must do.

Today's action will revolve around "saving a cat from a tree."

Are you ready?

"When Carey lost his job, he had heard a bird singing. It was a pleasant tune enough, chirping away in the temperate climes of springtime, nestled away in the protection of blossoming apple trees. The 35th Avenue Methodist congregation that Sunday morning featured a sermon on God's care of his creatures. Matthew Chapter 10, verses 29-31, that was the one about sparrows. He didn't know if he believed the words of the parson, or his weighty enthusiasm, but in the wake of his unemployment he felt at the mercy of the bird. "Not a sparrow falls without God knowing," he remembered the parson say. "You are worth more than sparrows," was the end of the quotation. As his head craned farther up into the tree. He saw above the bird a large grey cat, and moments later it was over. The singing stopped forever. Carey chuckled to himself. How typical, he thought, likening the feline predator to his own boss. As he observed the animal, he saw the grey cat lose it's footing along a branch and come tumbling down. Without thinking he opened his hands and caught the creature, cradling it into his arms. The cat was looked up into his eyes from his arms, begrudgingly thankful. I guess God knows about cats falling too, Carey thought. Behind him he heard a cry of joy, so he turned around to see what was the matter. Standing there was his boss's wife, in tears, thanking him profusely, and his boss, who looked altogether in a new predicament. 

Carey was beside himself, feeling optimistic. The day was young, young enough for him to still taste the morning in his mouth. Triumphantly, he had taken a chance. He wanted to ask Mary out to dinner from the office that day, and with resolve he readied himself for the big moment. Going outside to get the paper from his driveway he looked around, hoping he would see a neighbor, a friendly face to share the good news. Yet, to his dismay all he saw was Mrs. Weatworth's fat, grey tabby standing in the road of the neighborhood. The cat, unimpressed by his fortune blinked and walked towards him. Veering off to the left the Tabby scaled a tree, his tree, a willow that was planted in his front yard. "You don't believe me, huh?" Carey said to the cat. "Mary is going to go on a date with me, you'll see." The cat looked down on him and curled up in a ball, resting on a branch a few feet above him. As soon as the cat had done this, Mrs. Weatworth emerged from her porch with a concerned look about her. Carey, kindly waved her over to him and pointed up in the tree, explaining that he had an unexpected visitor over. Mrs. Weatworth wasn't very thrilled however. The tabby had been sick of late, so she worried about how physical it could get. Feeling extra charitable, Carey told her not to worry and climbed into the tree and pried the tabby away from it's rest, much to the animal's disappointment. 

So the difference between both of these narratives I hope will give clarity to what I mean. In the first narrative we have Carey saving the cat from a tree as a natural out working of the plot. How Carey reacted was dictated by the plot and his outside surroundings. I was able to move him through the plot to do something for me. The second example we see Carey motivated and acting rather autonomously, despite the surrounding plot. We get an idea that Carey wants to do something unorthodox because of his luck. So Carey's subsequent actions give the illusion that what Carey does, he does for himself, and not because he is lead to do something. Really take this into consideration and read into each scenario. You can see it in how they carry themselves. The difference is remarkable!

If you can, I would like you all to take the time aside and try to write two narratives with the same protagonist in this style. Experiment with what you can do with each style and then apply it to your stories. It will help you inject some added flexibility into your narrative.


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