Tag Archives: motivations

How to Know When It’s Really the End

For the last few months, I’ve known most of the story and plot of my Aanora story, except for the climax and how my characters would resolve it. Sometimes it’s better not to know everything before writing in order to be open to the characters and their motivations, behavior, thoughts, and emotions. When I began this story, I knew very little. As I wrote, I began to see possibilities, and part of my writing process on this story has been to explore those possibilities. I knew from the beginning the very last scene, however. My challenge, I knew also, was to get there.

While some writers outline a story in detail, I tend to do rough and tumble outlines, i.e. throwing ideas down on paper for the different sections of the story. Sketch out scenes to test their place — do they work in the context of this particular story? Ask myself a lot of questions about each of the primary characters — what do they want? What will they do to get it? What is their primary fear? What is their primary emotional vulnerability? Each character is a potential conflict or obstacle for the protagonist. Who is the villain? I couldn’t answer this question for a long time. I thought it was this one character who kept popping into my mind, but then I suddenly realized that character was not at all what he seemed. When I dug deeper, I discovered a layer of the story that gave me the path to the climax although I didn’t know it at the time.

I did a rough sketch of the climax and realized that I’d created an impossible situation for my characters. A no-win situation. What I didn’t realize, of course, was that the villain provided the way to resolve it. Instead, I decided to just write my way to the climax and hope that by the time I got there, I’d have the answer to how to resolve it. “Trust in the process” the note says over my desk, and I decided I’d do just that.

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Last Saturday, as I was writing closer and closer to the climax, I realized, no, it wasn’t closer and closer — I was there. Indeed, there my characters were, facing down the villain, surrounded, alone, with apparently no way out. I wrote right up to the moment the villain demands their surrender and I stopped. I couldn’t write any farther because I really didn’t know what would happen next. What did my characters want? What were they thinking? Feeling? Did they have the intelligence and imagination to figure out how to get out of this alive?

The real questions were: What was I thinking? What did I want? Did I have the intelligence and imagination to figure out how to get them out of the situation alive?

When I put away my writing last Saturday, I was in despair. I knew I was close to finishing the story. I wanted to finish it. The doubts poured into my mind. I decided to focus on other things like chores, British mysteries on PBS, and getting a lot of sleep. The next morning, however, I still didn’t know what to do. I read the Sunday newspaper over breakfast, then got in the shower. What a magic place a shower can be! With the water beating down on my head, the sweet scents of the soap and shampoo, feeling clean and relaxed and warm, my mind swimming around with my imagination. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking about Aanora. The idea just emerged, like a diver rising up through the depths of a lake to break the water’s glittering surface in the sunshine. There it was. The answer.

The right answer. How did I know? I felt it in my bones, a tingling through my muscles and skin, a mental settling down into the deep, comfortable chair of that ending. The action could not be any other way for this story and its characters. They need to work together, but at the same time, Aanora needs to step up and do her part. She was, after all, the reason they were in this pickle. Total excitement! The ideas started to flow fast and furious — ideas for other parts of the story in order to set the stage properly for the climax’s resolution.  But last Sunday, I had the time only to write notes so I wouldn’t forget. Today, after living with the ideas for five days, I get to finally step inside the story again and write the climax and resolution. I’m so excited.

Trust in the process.


Exploring the Human Mind Through Characters in Fiction

Human behavior is an enduring mystery to me, and often that includes my own behavior.  After years of writing fiction, I realized that I explored the human mind and behavior through the writing, i.e. the characters I created.  Therefore, always in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about character motivation that drives thought and behavior and wondering what drives the motivations.  Character motivation provides the crucial momentum for any narrative, even nonfiction stories.

Photo courtesy of The Atlantic (thank you!)

Photo courtesy of The Atlantic (thank you!)

Last evening, I read a fascinating article in the May 2015 issue of The Atlantic about a man in Rio de Janeiro who “suffered” from pathological generosity.  How can being generous be pathological?  You’d be surprised.  I was.  This man had suffered a stroke that had damaged the part of his brain that restrained giving and set the part of his brain that governed generosity loose.  At the same time, his neurologist discovered, giving triggered the release of dopamine and lit up the pleasure and rewards areas of his brain.  The pleasure and happiness he felt when giving made it impossible for him to stop.  So, did it then become an addiction?  Can other things cause pathological generosity?  It turns out “yes” to both those questions.

This morning, I started thinking about what kind of character would develop pathological generosity.  The first one that comes to mind is Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  He’s a candidate if ever there was one.  But a character could become too generous through guilt in a different way — what if a thief had a life-changing experience that turned him around and made him into a modern day Robin Hood?  Ben Thomas (Will Smith) in the movie Seven Pounds takes generosity to new heights as a result of the survivor’s guilt he feels.  I guess what I’m reaching for here is that it’s not enough to say a character is pathologically generous.  It’s important to show, in some way, the motivation behind it.  According to The Atlantic article, a person simply doesn’t have pathological generosity.  Something must have happened to the brain, or affected the brain like a drug or a mental illness, in order for the extreme of pathological generosity to occur.  So that makes me wonder, is it truly impossible, or is there some way that humans can be programmed to be extremely generous with no expectations for getting something back?

Every little bit helps.....

Every little bit helps…..

We think of generosity as being a constructive trait.  Generosity is a part of the glue that binds relationships and builds trust.  It is an important element in human society.  Combined with selflessness, it becomes the higher spiritual trait of altruism.  How interesting would a character be who was totally selfless and generous?  Would we trust that person or be suspicious of her?  Don’t we expect some behavior control even for generosity?  I’ve known people in my life who gave only when it benefited them in some way, not the recipients of their largesse.  These people were still seen as doing good and being generous — it was like their opportunistic impulses were beside the point in the final reckoning.  We see these people most often as villains in stories.

There is a destructive side to generosity.  The article about the man in Rio illustrated how his generosity tore apart his marriage, his extended family, and he lost his job.  Giving away to strangers what you need for yourself and your family would create problems for everyone.  So, humans possess impulse control located in the frontal lobes of the brain.  If those control areas have been damaged, as was true for the Brazilian man, there’s nothing stopping the generosity or telling the giver that he needs to take care of himself and his family first.  When generosity develops into an addiction, i.e. being addicted to the

Human brain pleasure centers lit up

Human brain pleasure centers lit up

pleasure and happiness that giving produces — all that dopamine being released in the brain — that can become a very destructive force in a person’s life.  So, it’s a good thing that we have frontal lobes exercising control over our behavior!

My frontal lobes have been working overtime and it has frustrated me, but the bottom line is that at this time I do not have the resources to exercise my usual generosity.  I want to, but I am actually the one who is in need of generosity.  It’s an uncomfortable position for me.  Intellectually, I understand how I ended up in this position: health crisis with bills, unable to work, no savings.  It could happen to anyone, but especially people in part-time jobs like me.  And writers as well as other artists.  It has been interesting, therefore, to observe my own behavior and responses lately — I’ve never thought of myself as poor or poverty-stricken, for example, and yet that’s where I am right now and I just cannot get my head around it — and the changes in my thinking that I’ve had to make in order to insure my own survival first.  This is all grist for my creative mill, of course.

Shameless plug for GoFundMe Medical Expenses fundraising project: And finally, please allow me to remind readers that there’s a crowdsource funding project at GoFundMe that was set up by a friend to help me with my medical and related expenses.  If you have already given, my deepest heartfelt thank you!  If you haven’t yet and are able, please help.  We are only $1490 away from making our goal!  Click here to donate.  If you don’t have the resources to give at this time, please tell others about the project and encourage them to give.  THANK YOU!