1,2), which has always been a big pet peeve for me. Unfortunately, as a result, I’ve always been afraid to maximize the motivation for my heroes and they often wind up under-motivated, which is far worse. In fact, in a later post, I talked about the need to have a huge motivation, and I never really resolved the contradiction.
So how on earth do you provide a huge motivation without
over-motivating? The answer lies in a
comment on one of those original posts: “Infallible rule: Whenever someone
gives you a lot of reasons, none of them is the real reason.”
In retrospect, in all of those over-motivated movies (Batman, Lethal Weapon 1 and 2, Training
Day, etc), the problem isn’t the quality
of motivation, it’s the quantity. In
each movie, the original motivation fell short halfway through, so the second half
piled on a new motivation to see the
I now realize that I shouldn’t be afraid to strengthen my
motivation all the way to the stratosphere.
If my hero gets to page 70 and says “Ugh, I’m done, this problem isn’t
worth dealing with anymore”, I should definitely listen to that…but I shouldn’t
have a new motivation walk in the
door at that late date, as all of the above movies do…I should go back and
strengthen the original
Those movies did it exactly wrong: they multiplied the
motivation when they should have simplified it.
As that commenter pointed out, giving too many reasons invalidates them
all. It feels desperate and unfocussed,
and it makes the hero seem weak and vacillating, jerked this way and that by
Give your hero a strong simple reason that he or she has to solve the problem right now.
There’s nothing I hate more than those movies where a cop
takes a special interest in a disappearance case because the victim reminds him
of another kid he failed to save years ago. Ugh.
No. Don’t do that. That’s not how the human mind works.
And whatever you do, don’t say, “You see, John Carter’s fighting to protect the princess of Mars because
he wants redemption for failing to protect his own family on Earth ten
years ago!” We will punch you in the
face if you tell us that.
But it’s tricky. It’s tempting to simply advise: “We’re animals. We only want what we want. We act out of self-interest. Start with a simple, profound motivation: self-preservation,
love, sex, family, revenge, etc... or if it’s merely justice, make it a quest to make right a specific
injustice of which the hero (and the audience) has felt the pain,
either through personal experience or through intense empathy.” And that’s certainly the simplest safest recommendation for selling a screenplay to Hollywood... but as a viewer I get really sick of the results: these days, every movie is a revenge movie.
So it looks like I’ve backed myself into another corner: how do you simplify the motivation without lowering everything to the level of revenge? Looks like this is going to spill over to tomorrow...