Extreme Book Makeover: Saggy Scene Solutions – Creating powerful MOTIVATION
Have you ever read a scene where the character says or does something that seems to come out of the blue? Or, you expect a character to do or say something – and they do the opposite? Which makes no sense?
The flip side is that they choose the predictable, boring decision? And now you’re yawning through the chapter.
Suddenly, as an author, we’re stuck, right there in the middle of the book, not sure where to turn, what to do.
Let’s stop here and talk about Walking Dead for a moment here. (A show my college kids started binge watching over Christmas, and now, thank you so much, I’m hooked.) If you haven’t seen it (and I’m not saying you should, but it’s actually an interesting show about character growth), the show is about how to survive a Zombie Apocalypse. Rick, the leader, and his band of refugees are just trying to find a safe place to live/stay/survive, and are currently roaming around Georgia, raiding grocery stores, trying to avoid other groups of renegade refugees and generally exploring the concept of survival verses living.
All while killing zombies, of course (which they call Walkers).
Now here’s why I’ve subjected you to this: In every episode, at least one of the group members has to walk into a scary building/house/prison/vehicle and face the possibility of being eaten. And every time we are shouting at the screen: “Don’t go into that building – there is a walker in there!” But they do it anyway.
And we’re okay with that as long as he/she has a good reason.
And that’s the key to the aforementioned problem as creators of story – your character must have a good reason for every action he/she takes. Otherwise, we all know it’s simply a plot device instead of an organic decision we all agree with. More, when a character steps into an “unmotivated bad decision” territory, the author risks the reader not going along on the journey.
It’s possible, if this is done incorrectly, you could motivate your readers right into putting the book down.
But your character can’t make the right, sound decision every time, or the book becomes predictable and boring.
So, how do you convince your reader that a bad decision is actually a good one?
We talked about Push-Pull PLOTTING earlier in this series as a way to convince the character (and the reader) that your character should go on his/her journey. But now that you’re in ACT 2, we need to re-utilize this technique to convince the character to move forward through the murky scenes of character change.
A Push-Pull Motivation employs a physical or emotional PUSH from behind, and a physical or emotional PULL ahead to propel your character on the next step of his journey.
It works like this:
Please, no, I don’t want to go into the warehouse. I know there are walkers in there who will eat me. Worse, it’s dark and murky and I can hear moaning noises.
Yes, says Rick. You have to go. . .
And here comes the PUSH:
The rest of us are injured. (You’re the only one who can go.)
We’re starving to death (The stakes are high)
This is the first store we’ve seen in miles, and maybe the only one we’ll see. (it’s the only option)
And, it’s getting dark out, so you’d better hurry (there is a deadline)
The PUSH outlines all the negatives that push your character forward in the decision.
Now, here comes the PULL:
This is a former Super Walmart, so there’s bound to be food inside. (The opportunity for success is high)
I’ll give you my super awesome Colt .45, as well as Michonne’s super cool sword. Besides, you’re a state track champion – there’s no way they’ll catch you. (you’re armed with the best stuff & you have super powers.)
You used to shop at this Walmart – you know where the canned food is. (See, you have some tricks up your sleeve!)
Once you stop by the pharmacy and pick up some bandages, we’ll all get better and help you battle the Walkers. (This will lead to a great outcome!)
The PULL offers a powerful reward for taking the chance.
Now, the final ingredient to creating believable motivation is to reasonably dismiss all the other choices:
But Rick, what about going into that warehouse in the back?
Rick – no, because it’s locked and probably has Walkers trapped in it.
But Rick, what if we wait until you’re better – you’re not that hurt.
Rick – I hate to tell you this, but I am actually turning into a Walker.
But Rick, maybe we should just hijack that motorhome sitting in the parking lot and keep driving.
Rick – To where? This Walmart is 30 miles from the next town.
But Rick, I don’t even know how to shoot a gun. Or swing a sword.
Rick – But you’re fast. And wiry. Maybe you won’t even need them!
Okay, fine, I’ll walk into the creepy dark building filled with walkers, armed only with a sword and a rusty six-shooter, grab a shopping cart and fill it up with food and medicines. Alone.
It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Now, here’s the secret. Look at your character’s choices. Which one seems the riskiest, with the highest reward? Can you give your character a strong Push-Pull to choose this one? Can you find reasons to dismiss the rest?
Make them choose THIS option and guess what – you’ll suddenly add tension to your saggy scene! Because who isn’t turning up the volume and sitting on the edge of their seat as our heroine walks, fearfully, bravely, into the creepy Walmart?
To add tension to your saggy scene, have your character pick a risky, yet rewarding next move.
Gird it up with:
A Negative PUSH:
- Exclusivity (your character is the only one who can do it)
- STAKES (for a good reason)
- Limited Choices (this is the only option with this outcome)
- Deadline (hurry! Time is running out. Or, this is the only time this option will come around)
A Positive PULL:
- A real possibility of SUCCESS
- You’re armed with the right TOOLS or a SUPERPOWER
- The Strategy is clever/You have TRICKS
- If you do this, everything will get BETTER
Finally, solidify the decision with a few options that are reasonably dismissed.
Next week we’ll talk about how to increase the tension of ACT 2 by making each turning point worse.
Until then, go, write something Brilliant!