I’ve been thinking recently about motivation, about understanding each character’s motivation in a story. And then about how to write a scene that reveals that motivation to the reader.
Once upon a time, I had a conversation with an up-and-coming film director about the difference between writing a book and writing a movie. In a movie, he said, everything is external. The challenge for the filmmaker is to create externals that reveal the internal (or perhaps to make a film where the internals don’t matter).
And so I find myself pondering that distinction. After all, don’t we do that in books? How many times have you heard the writing advice, Show, don’t tell. Except that, in books, we have ways of showing you things you can’t see on film. Things like the inside of a character’s head. We can show you the internal. The challenge for the writer is to balance the externals and the internals. A well-crafted book is like a teeter-totter, the externals and the internals poised on a precarious fulcrum. (If a fat kid climbs onto the externals, you’d better find a couple of skinny kids for the internals).
So anyway, motivation. I heard a news story about a 99 year-old man, married for 73 years, who was filing for divorce. And I wonder what motivates a man to do that? My wife suggests he must be an optimist, like he’s got enough time left to bother. And then I see it. He’s got an eternity left. He may have spent his entire life sleeping next to the woman, but dammit, he’s not going to spend eternity buried next to the b****.
I file that away for future use. And I find myself pondering the scene that will reveal that to the reader.