“I wanted to kill the me underneath. That fact haunted my days and nights. When you realize you hate yourself so much, when you realize that you cannot stand who you are, and this deep spite has been the motivation behind your behavior for many years, your brain can’t quite deal with it.” ~ Marya Hornbacher in “Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia”
An honest glimpse into motivation.
Imagine, if you will, a conversation between a man and a woman. It’s a long distance conversation. One of many late nights.
Man: I had a thought last night.
Woman: Oh? What was that?
Man: Instead of laying in bed with the phone on my pillow waiting for the next text from you, I thought how nice it’d be if your head was laying there.
Aw, how sweet and the woman gets those butterflies because she’s come to like these conversations. They make her smile. It’s a simple conversation that doesn’t leave the woman questioning his motivations. He likes her. Pure, unadulterated motivation. It’s comforting, really.
How does your view of this conversation change if you know that he has a girlfriend. Motivations change and so does your opinion.
“Walk a mile in another man’s shoes…” is a special talent that writers must learn and practice. Despite their chosen point of view, they have to be able to walk in every character’s shoes when writing dialogue. There is nothing spoken in this world that doesn’t have an internal motivation. Take “The Great Gatsby” when Daisy said, “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” It was a simple comment, off the cuff really, but in it, I could hear Daisy’s own motivations to protect her child from her own hurt. What about Ann-Marie MacDonald in “Fall on Your Knees“. “She is why purgatory was invented.” That little bit of dialogue is laced with judgements and thoughts that the reader isn’t privy too.
You don’t owe the reader every detail that tints every bit of dialogue. That’s the great mysterious in books. Our book club met this week and discussed, “Water for Elephants“, which I found to be a nice enough story, though rather simplistic. When the discussion turned to Camel, most of the group didn’t like him. Point blank. Didn’t like him. Personally, I did. The mention of World War I and his son’s disinheritance into the greatest illusion in the book. An unsolved mystery that left me thinking. I wanted to know what motivated his alcoholism on a circus train.
Characters motivations make the story. I love the subtle hints left unanswered and have the greatest respect for authors who are able to walk in every characters shoes, even if she doesn’t tell us about the entire journey.
What motivates Lisa to return home? What motivates her mother and sisters disdain? What, on God‘s green planet, motivated her father to steal a pickup of toys and household goods from Wal-Mart for Christmas?
Why would a man keep a single girl on the hook with sweet sentiment when he never intends on even taking her to coffee? Perhaps he was lonely and she was a pretty, blank canvas on which he could paint his needs without real commitment. Like respecting men do with porn. Perhaps it’s easy to forget that other people have feelings. Or maybe it just feels good to play Fabio. Women want him and are prepared to pay. Some motivations are good while other’s are selfish.
As a writer walking in all your characters shoes, it’s your job to decide.
If only we gave the same respect to the people in our lives everyday.