Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Character Motivation and Conflict by Amy Vastine

When crafting a story, there are two things an author must consider. One is her character's goals and motivations and the other is the conflict (both internal and external) that will make it difficult for those characters to reach their goal.

This is not always as simple as it may seem when I sit down to write story on my computer, but when I look out my front door, my mind wanders down these paths all the time. Maybe it's my background in psychology and sociology or perhaps it's just my wild imagination, but I see stories everywhere.

That lady at the grocery store with two different shoes on? She's having one heck of a day she was not expecting to have. She lost her job and had an important interview earlier today, but her alarm didn't go off and she woke up late and grabbed the wrong shoes on her way out the door. When she got to the interview, not only did she notice she was wearing mismatched shoes, but her competition was her ex-boyfriend, the man who broke her heart. Her miserable day led her to the grocery store where she planned to buy all the most fattening foods in the joint so she could eat herself into a food coma. Only, that job-stealing ex is also checking out and wants to know if she'll join him for dinner to catch up. Oh, my! What will happen next?

I don't know because I have to find the Mexican shredded cheese my husband likes to use when he makes quesadillas. But you get the idea. I see stories everywhere.

The latest drama is unfolding right in my own front yard. This is my pup, Macy.
She's a rescue dog. I'm not really sure what mix she is exactly, but she's the kind that LOVES squirrels. She's pretty much obsessed. She wears a shock collar because we have an invisible fence around our yard. As much as Macy loves me and the rest of the family, she will not come near us if we are on the other side of the electric fence. She will cry, roll over, bark until we join her on her side of the fence.

But if a squirrel shows its bushy tail on the other side of that same fence, Macy throws caution to the wind and darts across it. Mind you, she will not come back in the yard because she knows what will happen so it's back to the crying, rolling on her back, and barking until we come and get her.

Macy is the main character in my latest imaginary story. Macy's goal is to catch a squirrel and make a friend. The squirrel's goal is to gather as many acorns as he can. Some might believe his motivation is to stay alive throughout the winter, but I know that his real reason for hunting acorns in my yard is to torture Macy. She obviously reminds him of another beast who killed his mother (how very Disney of me).
This is the tree on the side of my property. The electric fence run right along the sidewalk. Those leaves are the squirrel's way of letting Macy know it's there. This squirrel (we'll call him Rudy) climbs this tree and gnaws off the branches heavy with acorns so they fall to the ground and he can gather them up.
Every day, more branches litter the ground. Macy now sits on the safe side of the fence and stares at this tree for however long we let her stay outside.

But Rudy knows Macy lives inside the house most of the time. So, he has gotten a little brazen and brought his acorns over to the other side for a nibble, just to drive Macy completely out of her mind.
My poor dog is close to having a nervous breakdown. She runs around the yard, nose pressed to the ground in search of Rudy's scent. She runs in circles, stopping to sniff up the trunks of trees on her side of the fence. That rascal Rudy has been frolicking freely while Macy is inside - that much is clear.

How far is Rudy willing to push the limits? Will Macy overcome the electric fence obstacle? ( I think we all know the answer is YES, my editor might call this a weak obstacle and have me revise) When will Rudy take a risk that leads to his capture? And if Macy catches him, will her goal shift? Will she still want to be friends or has Rudy gone too far? Only time will tell. For now, I have to remind Macy that she does not need to go outside every two minutes.

Forget about that squirrel, Macy. He's no good for you. He's toying with your emotions. You're better than this.

What stories do you make up in your head about the people or animals around you? Please don't tell me I'm the only one who does this!

19 comments:

  1. I love this story, Amy. I never get past the first scene on my "what-if" trips through my day.

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    1. Thanks, Liz! I don't always go very deep, but it is fun to imagine what's happening in other people's worlds!

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  2. Poor Macy. That Rudy is torturing her with its frolicking on her turf. As for me, I remember making up stories in my head a lot when I was younger. I was told by at least one of my teachers that I'm a good storyteller. I don't know what happened. For some reason I can't seem to do it anymore. I think my mind is always otherwise occupied and I can't seem to concentrate long enough to flesh out an entire story. I may think of tidbits, but I never seem to have enough material to put together for the duration of a whole book. It's too bad because it would be a dream come true to write one. Thanks for the story about Macy and Rudy, and about the lady with the mismatched shoes Amy. I hope one day my mind will work again and I can make up those stories in it like you do. ( :

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    1. Never stop trying, Laurie! That next great story could be living inside you right now. I have always been a daydreamer. I think I had to become a writer because my head was getting too full!

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  3. Amy, this post is just what I needed as I'm plotting a new book! Thanks! Macy and Rudy had some things to teach me! ;-)

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  4. Amy, I love the way your brain works! Too funny!

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  5. A wonderful start to my day. Really enjoyed both stories, and yes I do that, too, constantly make up flights of fancy.

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  6. Amy, after reading this I so feel sorry for Macy. That rascally Rudy needs an etiquette lesson, too. Who gets to rake the leaves and acorn pods all along the electric fence? That's got to be the real hero of this story.

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  7. That woman with the two different shoes...made things start leaping. She's trying to have an object lesson for her daughter on not caring what people think. Or she's a writer who's finally got an idea cooking and then discovered she has run out of gluten-free brownie mix which is essential to the word flow. She considered that she was clean as the victory and the shoes were way down the list on Looking Good.

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  8. Actually, I'm the woman with the two different shoes on. And her shirt on inside out. And sometimes I look down after I've pulled out of my driveway to see what I'm wearing--that way I'll know where I'm going. Tee-shirt and shorts, gym. Skirt and nice sweater, church and so on.

    And poor Macy. Squirrels are like that, you know. They love to torment dogs and my cat. Thanks for the daybrightener!

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  9. LOL- I can completely relate to your electric fence "controlled" dog losing his mind over a taunting squirrel. A similar drama is unfolding at my house except we have oak trees on our property and a very excited 8 month old puppy who (luckily for the squirrels) lacks the skills to actually catch one. Heaven help the scamps next year, though...

    I do see stories in the weirdest places, too. For example, I read a news story about a woman who woke to discover that a bear cub had broken into her house for pies she'd left out after baking. The got me thinking about who this woman was. Who bakes multiple pies at night and lives in the wilderness? A diner owner who lives in the remote Adirondacks, of course- lol. Then I began wondering how she would cope with the incident. A diner owner sounds like a plucky gal to me. Someone who's independent. Wants to fix things on her own... would want to rescue and raise the orphaned bear, only the DEC won't allow it unless she's certified as a wildlife rehabilitator or working under the supervision of one as she gets certified. So then, logically, my hero must be a DEC officer who doesn't believe a diner owner has the time to commit to such an endeavor, especially when she seems to want to keep the bear permanently instead of releasing it in the fall as per protocol... so starts the basis of my conflict in my last book, Raising the Stakes.

    So see- you're not alone- I think all writers need a little bit of crazy, don't you?

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    1. Love it Karen!! You inspired me. ( :

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  10. This would make a great children's book, Amy! What a creative way to explain GMC. I loved it! I'm a psychology major as well, so I get it. :)

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  11. I'm the woman with two different earrings on or the one who rushes out of the house without makeup on or who packs for a business trip and forgets to bring a traditional bra (those sports bras can be comfy). Maybe I need an electric fence to make me stop and do some kind of check.

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  12. LOL, Amy!! This was hilarious and I can so identify! We had a squirrel that did the same thing to our dogs. He'd run up the fence and stop right where he could stare at the dogs and wait for the chase. Of course the squirrel knew he could always climb a tree or jump to the safe side of the fence ;). Now it's the chickens. They know the glass patio door keeps them safe from the dogs (see, chicken brains are apparently not that small)...so they come right up and peck at it. They taunt the cats too, who paw frantically at the window. The dogs...well, I'm worried that one of these days the bigger one is going to go flying through the glass like a hollywood stunt man.

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  13. Love your dog's story. I can identify. I used to have a squirrel-obsessed husky who would spend the entire day waiting under a tree where she'd seen a squirrel. "What goes up must come down," and when it did, she would be there. Of course, the squirrel had already crossed from tree to tree and was somewhere in the next block. But hope springs eternal.

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  14. So funny! I imagine this whole scenario like a Loony Tunes cartoon. I'm pretty sure Rudy is doing this on purpose to make Macy crazy. Amazing how determined (aka obsessed) dogs can get!

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  15. Is no one else wondering why the name 'Rudy' for a squirrel? Of course not. Everyone tapped into the meat and potatoes of this wonderful tale. I do also love to let my mind go off in all those directions, but when it comes down to making it all make sense, it's like walking in shoes with Velcro soles. Funny, funny, Amy! Looks like she has Pointer in her, maybe?

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  16. It's not just you. I make up stories in my head all the time. Restaurants are my favorite place. I'll give a couple having dinner a whole history and current situation. My husband feigns amusement most of the time (I'm sure secretly he's wondering whether I need medication).

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