I finished twelve books in April:
The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (reread)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
The Lucky Ones by Anna Godbersen
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig
Touch by Courtney Maum (digital ARC)
Identical by Scott Turow
“What’s your motivation?”
I’m not sure how many times I heard that question in high school and college. When you are a theatre major, you hear it almost daily. Acting is really just figuring out what the character wants and showing the audience how much they want it.
This month, the same question has been swirling in my mind. Two of the books I read this month stirred it up, both because I had issues with the characters motivation. In one case, because they didn’t seem to have a motivation, in the other because their actions didn’t match their motive.
The first book I want to mention is Touch by Courtney Maum. This was a digital ARC I received in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in my review, click here.
The short version is I didn’t really like the book. What it boiled down to for me was that I had no idea what the main character wanted. I couldn’t even figure out what I should want for her. So I didn’t care what was happening to her. I didn’t care about the few choices she made. Eventually, this changed, the character developed a goal, and started moving toward it. But it was too late for me to become invested in the story.
The second book I actually really liked. The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig is the sequel to The Girl From Everywhere. This is a duology (I think there are only two books, but I would absolutely read a third) about a girl who has the ability to navigate through time and space as long as she has a map.
Warning: If you haven’t read the book, and plan on it, there are some mild spoilers ahead.
Nix (the main character) starts the story with a very clear goal. She has learned that Kash, the man she loves, will drown at some point in time (though she does not know when/ where it will occur). Her goal is to save him, to not lose the man she loves. This is a crystal clear goal, and one that I firmly support. Kash is my favorite character in the books.
The trouble I ran into was in the how. Nix learns that a man named Crowhurst has figured out how to change the past. He has figured out how to double back in time and revisit a map that he has previously visited to change what happened there. Nix latches onto this as the way to save Kash and sets out to make Crowhurst tell her how it works.
What was missing for me was how the ability to change the past would keep Kash from drowning. There was nothing (that I know of) that occurred earlier in Nix’s story that she could change to alter Kash’s future.
So instead of riding along with the story, I kept drifting out, into my own head to try to figure out how what Nix was trying to do was going to get her what she wanted. The best I managed to come up with was that Nix had already accepted that she would watch Kash drown. She just wanted to be able to go back and fix it after it happened. If that’s what Nix was thinking, it would have helped me stay in the story to have Nix lay it out there. Honestly, a conversation between Nix and Kash along the lines of “You’re going to die. But don’t worry, I’ll save you later” would have done the trick.
These motivational issues have gotten me thinking about my own writing. I am looking at every scene in my stories to see if the character has a clear goal, and if that goal is clear enough to carry the reader through the scene and story.
It has also got me thinking about why knowing what a character wants is so important for a reader. Knowing what a character wants tells us so much about them. It gives us something to root for. It makes us wonder how far they are willing to go for that thing they want. Where is the line they won’t cross? Who will they recruit (or squash) on the way to get it? Want characters (and people) want is the core of who they are. We are all defined by our dreams.