Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Everyone has heard this, "Conflict drives the Story."  In the World of Writerdom, that is almost as famous as the "show, don't tell" quote.  And I think its true.  Conflict does drive the story.  But the question I used to struggle with was where did the conflict come from?  Okay, yeah, the villain.  But, why?  

And I finally figured it out.  Motivation.  Your hero wants something, but he can't have it.  The villain wants something, but he can't have it because the hero is in the way.  Conflict.  

Its really hard to find a characters motivation.  I'm in the midst of outlining "Midnight Warrior" and I could not find out what it was Josten wanted!  He knew he was an angry character, I knew he covered his anger with over-cockiness, I knew he wanted some revenge...but against who?  Josten did not hold his anger against his dad, but against his entire society.  Who do you punish for that?  

I decided to go with it though.  I knew Josten wanted revenge, but it wasn't enough to fuel the entire story I had planned.  So I let Josten go wild with his revenge.  

(I'll add here that I was slightly upset with this whole revenge thing.  I went that route in "Ember Flame" and it is tough to turn the hero to more noble goals.  But I wanted to see if maybe, just maybe, Josten came through with something noble. ) 

I played through the scene in my head.  Josten is working in the mines with ally.  Josten sneaks away and goes into a tavern, steals a drink, and eavesdrops.  (fantastic, now he's lazy and a thief)  He overhears that his dad, Ruen, just caught the all elusive Midnight Warrior.  Out of spite, Josten makes a plan to capture the Midnight Warrior and force the generals to pay him an enormous ransom.  The ransom would be enough for him and ally to leave the country...forever.  (headdesk) So he goes and he does capture Aralyn.  He sets her free.  

"whaaat?"  I screamed to myself, "He set her free?  Why did he do that?  Aralyn could not have endeared herself to him (I snicker at the thought), he's not usually the pitying type, and he's to selfish to be spiteful and not get his freedom."  (He's a fantastic hero, is he not?  Lets just say the novel will, hopefully, have a lot of character development.  -_-)  

Then it hit me.  Freedom.  Josten wants freedom.  

Duh.  I already knew that.  

But then I got it.  Sure, Josten wants freedom.  More importantly though, Josten cares about freedom.  Deeply.  So much so, to where he is willing to give up his chance at freedom to let cold, heartless Aralyn go back to her freedom.  

The story came easy after that.  Narcul (villain), and to some degree, Aralyn, are both enslaving people.  Josten does not like that, and so he allows himself to be used to help bring freedom.  (yes, I am being vague now, don't want to give too much away)  

The point is, before you decide on the conflict of the story, you need to decide on the motivation of the characters.  

I like to ask two questions, and OYANers will recognize them; what does the hero seem to want? and what does the hero really want?  For Josten, he seemed to want revenge, but he really wanted freedom.  Lets ask those questions for some famous heroes....

Luke Skywalker from Star Wars

What does he seem to want?  He seems to want to become a Jedi and defeat the Empire.
What does he really want?  He wants to be like his father.  Even in "Star Wars: A New Hope" when he agrees to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan, he says "I'm going with you to Alderaan, to learn the ways of the Force like my father.  There is nothing left for me here."

Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind

What dos she seem to want?  Ashley and/or Rhett
What does she really want?  Tara.  She wants a home.  

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games

What does she seem to want?  She seems to want to overthrow the Capitol and free the districts
What does she really want?  She wants revenge (in Mockingjay she agrees to the "new hunger games" decision) she wants to be fed and safe and cared for.  

Find your characters' motivation, and you will find your story's conflict


  1. Love the new writing blog! Can I discuss Katniss for a minute? I don't think Katniss going along with the "new hunger games" decision was evidence of her wanting revenge... I think it was the only moment in the book where she is acting intelligently, I think that is the moment where she decides to kill Coin, and she knows that if she doesn't agree with Coin's idea, it will put Coin on her guard and she won't be able to assassinate her. I think Katniss is a weak character simply because she spends most of the story in a quandary of NOT KNOWING what she wants... and I think the author was also in that same quandary of not knowing what Katniss wanted. Just my two cents... :)

  2. Awesome post! It really got me to thinking about what Loral's motivation was because she's my only character in all of my stories that I have never really known what she wants. It took me a lot of thinking to figure out what she wanted, and then I realized the one thing that she wants, her family. She went on her adventure because she wanted to find the remains of her family. Great post!

  3. Great post! We learned about screenwriting recently, and how you need to have a conflict revolving around something that the protagonist wants. Awesome examples! :)

    Ruth Newton