For most novelists, one of the easiest things to come up with is an idea for a story. It seems that intriguing ideas swirl around us like cell phone conversations—we just use our writer’s instinct to pull them out of the air and act upon them.
The next step is to develop characters and stitch together the quilt of a plot that will sustain the story for 100k words. And right up front, we must consider what plot motivation will drive the story and subsequently the characters. Fortunately, there are many to choose from.
So what is a plot motivator? It’s the key ingredient that provides drama to a story as it helps move the plot along. Without it, the story becomes static. And without forward motion, there’s little reason to read on. Here is a list of what I consider the most common plot motivators.
Ambition: Can you say Rocky Balboa.
Vengeance: Usually an all-encompassing obsession for revenge such as in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.
The Quest: LORD OF THE RINGS is a great example as is JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.
Catastrophe: A series of events that proves disastrous like in THE TOWERING INFERNO.
Rivalry: Often powered by jealousy. Remember CAMELOT?
Love/Hate: Probably the most powerful motivators in any story.
Survival: The alternative is not desirable. Think ALIEN.
The Chase: A key element in numerous thrillers including THE FUGITIVE.
Grief: Usually starts with a death and goes downhill from there.
Persecution: This one has started wars and created new nations.
Rebellion: There’s talk of mutiny among the HMS Bounty crew.
Betrayal: BASIC INSTINCT. Is that boiled rabbit I smell?
There are many other sub-motivators that are strong enough to drive a scene or section or secondary character of a book, but I don’t consider them global motivators. Examples include fear, pleasure, knowledge, lust, sacrifice, thrills, and others.
You can easily find a combination of these in most books especially with a protagonist and antagonist being empowered for totally different reasons. But the global plot motivator is usually the one that kick starts the book and moves it forward.
What plot motivators are you using in your WIP or latest novel? Did I miss any?