How to Craft the Motivation for a Noble Quest

Noble Quest, Suspense, How to write a novel, Chapter 3, Limelight, My Book Therapy, Susan May Warren, MotivationHow do you build a powerful Noble Quest for your character, launching him off into his Second Act Journey with enough motivation, yet enough reward waiting at the end?  This section of your story is pivotal because you must have built enough Want  for your character to propel him through all the obstacles and disappointments of Act 2, all the way to the Black Moment.  Often, when we don’t believe in a character, if they seem “too stupid to live,” it’s because we haven’t built enough WANT. This can be solved by using the Push-Pull Technique.

I’ve heard them called MRU – Motivation, Reaction Units.  This technique is more about building a solid motivation to convince us of the Reaction and can easily be added to the MRU technique.

Again, the PUSH is the push away from the hero’s (or heroine’s) current situation.  It is usually something negative.  Like the doctor’s appointment that informs a patient of an impending heart attack.  The PULL is the glimmer of the happy ending  before him, the thing that he WANTS, and the sense that it might be attainable.  Like a buddy who has gotten healthy and found true love.

I showed you yesterday how MacKenzie, who’s goal is to hide out, suddenly decides that she needs to do something for the hero, too, and decides to be his protector against the media who wants to destroy him.  This is her Noble Quest (because she already believes she will be safe).  I build this by showing the PUSH – her past experience with the media, and the PULL – the sense that she doesn’t want to be dead weight and wants to help him.  HIS noble quest is to be of some use. (Which goes to her character and what she wants overall – to make a difference in her world).

Luke’s scenes is posted below. (With my notes in the body).  Note how I bring Luke from a place of annoyance with her to a begrudging respect, if not even compassion.  And, keeping it in the suspense genre, I always hint at what could go wrong. 

Chapter 3 Luke with SMW comments

A Checklist for the Noble Quest Chapter:

  1. Have you established a PUSH away from something? (Or given your character a reason to leave their current situation?)
  2. Have you established a PULL toward the Happy Ending? (Or given them a glimpse of their greatest dream?) 


If you are writing a suspense, then it is also key to:

  1. Remind the reader what is at stake and what could go wrong.
  2. Leave the reader with a sense of disaster looming as they move into Act 2.


Monday we’ll Jump into Act 2 and the first step on their inner journey!

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

Other post you might be interested in:

How do you build strong motivation for your character? Chapter 3: The Start of the Noble Quest

How do you structure your novel?  How many words in a scene, or pages in a chapter?

I get that question a lot, because the truth is there is no “rule” and  the answer seems to vary with author. Here’s my formula, and why.

I write many different length books for different genres:  Contemporary Romance, Long Historical, Short Romantic Suspense, Novellas… but they all have the same story structure.  (Or, if you follow MBT teaching the same LINDYHOP.  Life, Inciting Incident, Noble Quest, Disappointments, Help!, Overhaul, Perfect Ending).  This means, on average, the First Act (LIN) is 15% of the story, and the Third Act (HOP) is 15-20% of the story.  Poor D, or the Second Act takes up 60-70% of the story.

Which is why, of course, you want to make it count.

But I’m not a math major, and I like things in nice neat packages and pulling out my calculator for word count is annoying.  So,  I use a simple formula.

I always write a 20 Chapter book.  The first three chapters are Act 1.  The final three are Act 3.  The rest is Act 2.  If I have a 100,000 word book, then my first three chapters are roughly 5,000 words each. (Usually I have 2-4 scenes in a chapter).  If I write a 80,000 word book, then my chapters are roughly 4000 words each…(again, with 2-3 scenes in each chapter).  For a 60,000 word book, then my chapters are 3000 words each (with 2 scenes per chapter).

In my head, it’s just easier to figure out the pacing if I know that by the end of the third chapter, regardless of what size book I’m writing, my characters have to start their Noble Quest.

Which is where we find Kenzie and Luke today.  Last week we had the Meet the Girl Scene…today I’m going to show you the Reaction Scene to that (Remember, your book is made up of Action/Reaction Scenes).  This is also Kenzie’s Noble Quest scene, so that means I need to focus on MOTIVATION.  She already knows that she has to stay in Tennessee for her own protection, but she wants something more.  So, enter Candy, a nosy reporter that wants to derail Luke’s life. Kenzie knows a little about nosy reporters, so she decides to defend him.  Although he’s supposed to look after her, she wants to contribute, also.  It’s a good balance in a romance to have the hero and heroine both working equally to help (or sometimes to harm) each other.  Proactive heroes and heroines are compelling.

The technique I use to get her on his team and decide to help him is called the Push-Pull. Whenever you’re moving a character toward a decision, and then an action, the Push-Pull keeps us from thinking, “Oh, that was a stupid decision.”  The Push is the nudge/reason away  from their current position through something negative, the Pull is the lure of something positive.  See if you can find it in the story (okay, I marked it, too.)

Chapter 3 with SMW Notes

In every scene, always ask yourself:  Do I have a push pull?  Did I give the reader sufficient motivation for this decision?

Tomorrow I’ll post the checklist for Kenzie’s scene.

By the way, tonight we’re chatting about the business side of writing at MBT – business plans, managing career and finances as a writer and growing your fan base! Stop by – 7-8pm,


Let the fight begin! How to use stakes and motivations to build a powerful story!

Last week we talked about how to discover  Stakes and Motivations.  But, how do you use them to create a powerful story? 

 Let the Fight Begin!

 One of my favorite movies for continually raising stakes and forcing the viewer to the edge of her seat is the thriller, Cellular. Just to recap, in a nutshell, it’s a movie about a woman who is kidnapped. She uses a demolished phone to call for help and gets hold of a young man whose girlfriend has broken up with him because of his irresponsibility. A deadline of sorts hangs over their conversation (an essential element in any suspense), because, at any moment, they could get cut off, and she may never be able to dial out again. She must convince this random guy to help her. He eventually gets involved to the point where he begins to break the law and risk his life to save her.

             Why does he do all this for someone he doesn’t know? It’s certainly not to prove he’s responsible. He actually doesn’t agree with the accusation by his girlfriend. So what makes this free-living guy care enough about a stranger to help her?

 The answer is found in the rising balance of story stakes and motivation.  Or…the Push-Pull.

             We learned about the different kind of kind of stakes: public and private. Now as you lay out the stakes, you’re going to make them fit your story. 

 First, you’ll make sure they are in Proportion to the challenges before the hero. If the stakes are too great, the hero will simply give up.

             For example, by the end of Cellular, the hero is taking on bad cops in the LA police department who are trying to kill him. If he knew at the beginning of the movie what he’d be facing in the end, he would have hung up the phone in an instant. But in the beginning of Cellular, only the life of the woman is at risk – and frankly our hero doesn’t even believe her. All that is at stake for him is that he’ll be late running an errand for a friend. (Thus cementing the idea he’s irresponsible). The stakes are miniscule, and he doesn’t need much private motivation to overcome them. 

 He takes his cell phone to the police station rather dubiously, and is told he has to take the phone to the next floor. He’s losing reception on the phone when he hears her being attacked. Suddenly, the stakes are raised. The woman’s life really could be in danger. Suddenly we’re beginning to tap into his values (responsibility). He isn’t going to let the phone go dead.

 Now what? The author raises the stakes to a new level. The woman’s son is threatened. The hero makes a heroic choice (one step above his primal instincts) when he decides he must race to the school to find the boy…only to have school let out a sea of khaki and blue shirt clad ten- year-old boys. He is too late to reach the child, and watches him get kidnapped.

New Stake: The child has been kidnapped by thugs. It is met with the new Motivation: A child’s life is in danger, and the hero didn’t reach him in time, thus he feels responsible. Our hero makes yet another heroic choice when he races after the bad guys, all the while dodging traffic.

Then the cell phone battery begins to die. It’s yet another stake in the story, compounded by the fact that he’s lost the bad guys. In that moment, our hero makes a pivotal choice to hold up a cell phone store for a battery charger, crossing the line to a point of no return.


Because the stakes have been raised. His belief that now two lives are at stake, and that only he can help (Why!), trumps the challenges before him. If he’d, say, grabbed the plate number, and called it into the police, or believed that the victim might call someone else for help, he might not have had sufficient motivation or belief in the stakes to confront the challenges before him.

Now that the motivation – that only he can help – have been raised to meet the stakes – the two lives on the line – the author raises the stakes yet again, threatening the husband. And after our hero has conquered the challenge of saving the husband…the author raises them again with a final stake – good against evil.

The key element here is the harder a character has to fight to win the day, and the more he has to fight for, the stronger the reader will stay hooked to the story. But each rising stake in the story must be in proportion to the motivation the character has to overcome it.

The second element to weaving stakes into your story is to create Believability. If, say, our hero was suddenly being chased down the street by a tank, in the middle of LA, well, we might react the same we did to crazy movies like Volcano. But even in Independence Day, we believed each outrageous stake because they’d gradually brought in the aliens and destroyed the cities in a way that seemed plausible.

Every increasing stake in Cellular is believable, or explained easily away, from losing reception (he is in an old building with cement walls), to why he can’t rescue the child (the kids are all in uniform, and the school lets out just as he arrives, into a flood of blue-shirted tykes). As you create your stakes, make sure there is one simple, believable explanation for that rising stake.

The final key in keeping your plot riveting is Balance. The stakes must rise in rhythm to the motivations. If you raise two or three stakes at once, then you need to ensure the motivations are strong enough to overcome it.

For example, in Cellular, if our hero’s cell phone battery was dying, someone was shooting at him, and he got into a car accident and broke his arm all at once without stopping to insert rising motivations, he might throw in the towel. His motivation just wouldn’t be great enough to face those cascading stakes. However, if the bad guys got a glimpse of him, and promised to go after someone he loved, he might find the strength to dig himself out of the rubble.

Make sure that you’re balancing those stakes with motivations in a rhythm that keeps your hero moving forward instead of crushing him. And remember – the higher the stakes and the faster they pile up, the more tense the story. So, it behooves the author to save those techniques until the end of your story.

You’ll notice too, that each time a stake is raised, he becomes more heroic. His actions are less and less about himself and more ultraistic.

Proportion, Believability and Balance are the keys to propelling your character through a story, over obstacles and challenges and even to the point of your hero risking it all for a stranger and becoming an ultimate hero.

Let’s revisit motivation for movement, the PUSH-PULL. 

Remember: for every scene, and every motivation you have, you’ll need two things….a Push AWAY from their current situation and a PULL Towards the situation.   

Going back to Cellular – the Push is often his own failure – the Pull is the threat of someone getting hurt.   But the Push can often be his victory, too.  You just need to make sure you have both in order to keep the momentum going forward.

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about heroism, and how to build that into the stakes and motivations of the story. 

Susie May

Creating a Push-Pull Motivation for your suspense scenes


Yesterday, we talked about the use of Public and Private Stakes to raise the epic element of your suspense, and drive your reader through the story.  But that is only one part of the equation.  You need motivation as well. 

 You need to employ something I call the PUSH-PULL. 

 Let’s start at the beginning of the story:  Your character will need a motivation to start them on their journey.  Some Why and What do they want?    This is easy – you simply take a look at their greatest dreams and give them glimpse of hope that they can achieve them early on in the story. 

 But that’s when things get tough.  See, on every great journey, there is conflict – or obstacles along the way.  And your character will be tempted to give up.  They need to have a Push-Pull at the beginning of every scene to help them face that obstacle.  

Every scene has to have an emotional or physical push/pull (or combination thereof).   It’s the PUSH away from something negative, and the PULL toward something positive. 


Think of it this way – there has to be a reason for them to leave the current situation they are in.  It might be that the roof will cave in, or it might be emotional – saying “I love you” to someone before they walk away.  Whatever is a stronger Push out of their current situation is the key to building the motivation for that scene. 


There also must be a hint of why, of a reward on the other side of the obstacle.  A Pull.  Sometimes it’s simply a safer place where they are now.  Maybe it’s a hint of the happy ending.  Whatever it is, it’s the second half of the motivation equation. 


Yesterday I talked about the movie Unstoppable and how it needed personal stakes in the story.  It also could have used more Push-Pull.   Yes, I understood that the older railroad man wanted to prove that he wasn’t useless anymore, and that the younger conductor wanted to prove that he was worthy of his job, but as we drew closer to the obstacles, the push-pull waned, and only the public stakes kept the story moving forward.  

 The Push-Pull equation also helps develop a more heroic character.  Most of all, if you use the Push-Pull method, you’ll never have someone throwing your book across the room. 

 A great story requires a careful balance of rising story stakes and strengthening motivations not unlike the rhythm of the one–two punch. They work together to create a can’t-put-it-down novel.


Book Therapist questions:   

ü  What is at stake in your scene? 


ü  What is the motivation to overcome the stakes? 


ü  What is the Push-Pull?


 I have a rule of thumb: Every 50 pages, I raise the stakes. That’s about every 10,000-12,000 words. Or every three or four chapters. Using the plotting chart, and starting with the inciting incident, chart the rhythm of stakes and motivation in your story. Don’t forget to make your hero more heroic with each decision!

If you have questions, head over to the MBT Club Voices, and join in on the suspense discussion!

I’m headed to Florida for the Deep Thinker’s Retreat!  It’s 17 degrees where I live today.  Just sayin’

Keep warm!

Susie May