April Word of the Month

Motivation, noun

1. the act or an instance of motivating, or providing with a reason to act in a certain way: I don’t understand what her motivation was for quitting her job.

Synonyms: motive, inspiration, inducement, cause, impetus.

2. the state or condition of being motivated or having a strong reason to act or accomplish something: We know that these students have strong motivation to learn.

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3. something that motivates; inducement; incentive: Clearly, the company’s long-term motivation is profit.

Origin of motivation 1870-1875; First recorded in 1870-75; motive + -ation

Related forms: motivational, adjective; motivative, adjective; antimotivational, adjective; demotivation, noun; nonmotivation, noun.

Word Origin and History for motivation, n. 1873, from motivate + -ion. Psychological use, “inner or social stimulus for an action,” is from 1904.

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It breaks my heart that there were no motivational speakers or self-help books before 1870. As a long time employee of a local government branch, I sat through more of these folks’ speeches and watched their videos and realized their motivation had more to do with the money they earned than making sure the employees actually got the tools needed for a stressful and vital job. The goal of the higher-ups who brought in the speakers seemed to be the ability to say, “We trained them the best we could. Don’t know why they couldn’t do the job.” I’m not going into the lack of good equipment and initial training because it’s the same everywhere and what’s the point?

My point is that recently the charming Laurie Schnelby Campbell came to speak to my RWA chapter about Plotting via Motivation and From Plot to Finish. I’ll be doing a more in-depth review of her talk on Sunday, but today I wanted to share the key things you need to know about goal and motivation in writing.

Goal vs. Motivation

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A Goal is a short-term quest, like finding a missing child or getting funding for college. A time limit is usually involved.

Motivation isn’t tangible, isn’t time limited. It’s a way of being. Might not even be aware of it. Mother Teresa was motivated to help the poor. Not just until she became famous. Throughout her life.

Goal is what, Motivation is why.

But wait, that’s not what we are looking for in a love story, is it? Not entirely. We need conflict, we need to see a happy ending within reach then see it crumble. We need to see the characters as real people who can rebuild that happy ending.

Consider this: Susie and James went to high school together. Everyone thought they would get married. Instead, Susie went to Hollywood and became famous. James became a drunk, then joined AA and became a counselor. Our story opens when Susie comes back home.

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Why? Because Susie has gotten into bad habits in Tinsel Town and needs to get clean or she will no longer have a career. She’s terrified of not being famous. That motivates her to seek help.

James has been there, so he knows some of what Susie is going through. His motivation is that he still loves her and always has. His goal, however, it gets her to see the special person she has always been. If she doesn’t get back into movies or television, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe staying there in the sticks with him is a better choice for her.

Conflict can jump in from his current lady friend, her current movie star escort, and lots of expectations from the people around them. And the fact they each have different goals that are in direct opposition to each other.

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Okay for a contemporary story. Now for fantasy, make her a powerful mage who goes off to the big school for magic users and becomes possessed. He became a monk and can cast out demons.

Paranormal, she’s a vampire, he’s a willing victim, and they both find the chance to reform.

Science fiction, well, you get the idea. The key is how the story is set around their goals, motivation, and conflict. That was fun! Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

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