What, exactly, do you want?

by Mary Rehmann
Published on: June 23, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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Comments: 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, I happened across a blog post on character goals and motivations that nagged me like a just-below-the-skin’s-surface splinter – but in a good way.  I’d pick at it a little, forget it for a bit, and then rediscover it and set about finding a better set of tweezers.

I stumbled across http://www.writerslikeme.com/tag/princess-bride/ while looking for an image from The Princess Bride to use in a prop for an 8th grade graduation celebration.  In the blog, Cheryl writes about Westley’s, Buttercup’s, Inigo’s, and even Humperdinck’s goals and the importance of character motivation.  I added the blog to my bookmarks, fully aware that I might never again visit it because, let’s face it, I’m only a blogger by scriva-default.  I rarely read blogs because there are only so many hours in a day and only so much writing advice I can swallow before it begins to taste like hemlock.  I did, however, pull up my character rubric for the novel I’ve been promising myself to work on this summer, and I gave myself a nice pat on the back for listing on it goals for my two main characters.  Splinter?  What splinter?

A few nights later, in the midst of reading one of the five YA books I try to read each trimester (gotta have stuff to recommend to my students), I wondered why the author hadn’t clued me in to the motivations of anyone except the main character.  Was it a plot technique?  Had I missed something?  Was my new-found focus making me a writer-snob?

Fast-forward ten days. I asked my 7th graders to write a paragraph about which character from Dead Poet’s Society they most identify with and why.   I expected about half would mention Neil and the other half would bring up Todd.  What I got was at least five references to each student character in the movie – and plenty of explanations about how the characters’ needs and goals were similar to what my own students wanted.  Damn splinter.  I graded my essays and went back to my rubric.  Sure, my main characters had goals, but what about the ancillary cast?

I’ve got my summer writing work cut out for me: understand the goals of more of my characters, get some actual writing done, and spend a little time catching up on splinter-inducing blogs.

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  1. Sabina I. Rascol says:

    Dear Mary–so I can’t just think of what my main character and a couple more want? Your post was very helpful. I now have an additional technique to use, searching out my various characters’ innards, as I focus on my work-in-progress this summer. Thanks.

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