Background color
Background image
Border Color
Font Type
Font Size
  1. This means even side characters, although here I am going to focus on main character motivations.

    There are different levels to character motivations, which we will call the "Abstract Ambition," "Concrete Goal," and "Immediate Want."

    1) The most broad level of character motivation is abstract ambition. Examples are "happiness," "wealth," "power," "excitement," "normality," etc. A full list of abstract ambitions can be found HERE. However, an abstract ambition is not enough to make a story. Without a concrete goal, abstract ambitions are as superfluous as Miss America saying she wants "world peace."

    2) Next down is the most complex motivation, the character's concrete goal. The question to ask is, "How do they plan on attaining their abstract ambition?" For example, a character may plan on wooing a hot girl in order to gain happiness, to sell drugs in order to gain wealth, or to become a CEO in order to gain power. The character's quest to attain concrete goal provides the main source of conflict in the story.

    Attaining the concrete goal, however, does not always lead to also attaining their abstract ambition. Wooing a girl may not lead to happiness, selling drugs may not lead to enough wealth, or your CEO promotion could actually be a puppet position for someone behind the scenes. The same concrete goal could also lead different characters to different abstract ambitions. Attaining a job, for example, can lead to happiness, wealth, power, stability, impressing a woman, etc.

    In Breaking Bad, (Nothing in there will ruin the show, very light spoilers, but I just want to give a heads up).
    Walter White has the concrete goal of cooking and selling meth. This leads to gaining many abstract ambitions, such as removing the financial pressure on his family, gives him confidence in himself, and even slowly gives him power over other people. The one abstract ambition it never leads him to is happiness. Man, is he an unhappy person.

    The main character may not ever attain their concrete goal, but they must ALWAYS attain their abstract ambition. The character may find happiness without ever finding a mate, may find wealth without selling drugs, or find power without needing to be a CEO. It is possible that they switch abstract ambitions from their initial one, but they always attain it in the end. Even in a tragedy.

    For example, in Terry Guilliam's "Brazil," (This one contains major spoilers. Do not read if you plan on ever watching this excellent film.)
    The main character is searching the whole movie for happiness. He hates his job, bureaucracy, the world, and his concrete goal is to escape with his girlfriend to the country, which will lead to attaining his abstract ambition – to live happily ever after. However, his girlfriend is killed, Harry Tuttle disappears, and he is captured. Also, there never was a countryside to escape to. He then escapes into a fantasy world where he is rescued and lives happily ever after with his not-killed girlfriend in the countryside.

    3) A third level to character motivation are smaller goals, which we can call their immediate want. The conflict that comes from the immediate want is the driving force of the scene. Each scene must contain an immediate want, which in some way contributes to the journey of attaining the concrete goal, which will (hopefully) lead to the abstract ambition.

    Here is another way to think of these things:
    • Abstract ambition is the theme.
    • Concrete goal is the plot.
    • Immediate want is the scene.

  2. New writers have a lot of questions about how to develop their skills as a writer. Many of them, however, have not finished their first draft. Developing your skills is really a task for second draft and beyond. First draft is all about getting something on the page.

    1. Stale Characters
    2. Confusing Plot with lots of holes
    3. Stilted dialogue
    4. Minimal thematic material
    5. Infodumps, especially in the first few chapters.
    6. A lot of telling instead of showing
    7. Repetitive redundancy, where you describe the same thing twice or more
    8. Repetitive use of the same unusual word
    9. Excessively using adverbs
    This is a tongue-and-cheek list, but I hope it gets my point across. In the words of Hemingway, "The first draft of anything is shit." If you write a sentence and think, "Holy crap, that is the worst sentence written by anyone. EVER." Follow that thought up with, "So I'll fix it later," and let it be. It doesn't mean you're a bad writer, and it doesn't mean your story sucks. It means it's in an early stage of development. Keep writing, and keep moving forward. Everything can be fixed in later drafts.

    By simply writing, you are naturally improving your writing skills. There are so many difficulties you encounter in your first draft that it's like doing an obstacle course. You don't need to climb that rope wall with style, you just need to climb. In doing so, you will develop strength and endurance.

    This is the best advice that I can give you regarding your first draft:
    Sprint To The Finish.
    Treat it like an obstacle course and get the best time you can. ​

    Completing a first draft of a novel is an important milestone for a writer. Before, it was all in your mind or written out in jumbled notes, but now you have a complete version. Your story is finally outside of you. It's tangible. Even though it probably sucks, it is now clearer than it ever was in your head, and what needs to be improved becomes obvious to you. Now you can begin to develop your writing skills.

    I remember when I finished my frist draft. I stayed up so late that my dad was getting ready for work. And even though my writing was so atrocious that I vowed to never show a word to anyone, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I had learned so much about crafting a story along the way that I was at least twice the writer I was when I began.

    So if you are writing your first draft and have questions about writing, Sprint To The Finish of your story, and you may answer your own questions.
  3. Structure is key to having a successful story. The word "structure" can be misleading, because it does not mean you are confined, rather that it allows you to express your ideas in a way that your readers will follow. Even though they are not aware of it, readers expect structure.

    Think about pop and rock music. The structure goes: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Verse, Chorus. The listener is expecting this. Sometimes people deviate from this structure, but successful pop and rock musicians rarely deviate very far. And yet, the possibilities for creativity within this format is seemingly infinite. The same is true for story structure.

    Structure does not need to be followed verbatim. As in music, ou can feel free to deviate from them all you want, but do it consciously. As my bass teacher once said about playing basslines, "Please break the rules... but only after you've learned how to follow them."

    There are many different structures, but this one is, as far as I can tell, the most popular. It's a variation on a 3-act format that works well for stories and screenplays. The second act is split in half, making it four different parts to the story. Each of these parts are roughly 25% of your story. Whether you're starting a story from the ground up, or if you already have a completed draft, the following outline will help you clean up your plot line.

    1. Act 1 – The Set-Up
      a. What is it?
      i. Establishes the stakes
      ii. Give us the “Right Now” before the true action begins
      1. But note that the story is already beginning, it’s not what happens before the story. You should start your story where it gets interesting
      iii. We only include what is important for the rest of the story to progress.
      iv. Foreshadows story to come
      v. Introduces characters
      vi. No plot twists​
      b. Begins with a “hook”
      i. First line, gives intrigue.
      ii. For example: “I woke up next to a stranger.” So many possible interpretations.
      iii. But there are many places for hooks, and the more the merrier
      1. End of first paragraph
      2. End of first page
      3. A few pages in
      4. And end of first chapter​
      c. Has a conversation with the relational character
      i. That describes the theme of the book​
      d. Ends with the Fateful Decision
      i. It is a choice for the MC to have a movie. If they make the other choice, then the movie doesn’t happen.
      ii. From here on out, the everything changes for the MC
      iii. We have a new goal:
      1. Survival, finding love, attaining justice, stopping the bad guys, preventing disaster, escaping danger, saving someone, anything else.​
      iv. Everything we learned in Act 1 is at stake
      v. It is here we see the first glimpse at the antagonistic force
      vi. Examples:
      1. Alice goes down the rabbit hole
      2. Neo (from the Matrix) takes the red pill
      a. But he also makes the wrong fateful decision twice before: with the phone call and in the car​
    2. Act II (part 1) – The Reaction
      a. What is it?
      i. Too early to have the MC be a true hero yet
      ii. Still adjusting to new goal, new antagonist
      1. Fumbling, Hesitant, running, planning, recalculating, recruiting, hiding.
      2. Not trying to succeed, just trying not to fail.​
      iii. Hero is a wanderer, staggering through a forest of options and risks
      iv. Act II gives us something to care about
      v. Always asking questions
      vi. Hero faces inner demon for the first time​
      b. Ends with: Mid-plot point
      i. Happens in the smack-dab center of your story.
      ii. A new piece of information (often a twist) that turns the whole plot in a new direction (which is the next section, “The Attack”)
      iii. Can be known to MC, or only to readers
      iv. Can be a gentle whisper to the reader’s ear, or a sledgehammer to their head​
    3. Act II (part 2) – The Attack
      a. What is it?
      i. Now the MC becomes a true hero
      ii. Stops asking questions, starts finding answers to them.
      iii. Begins to fix things, attack the problem
      iv. Has solutions that almost works
      v. But the antagonistic force is getting stronger, too. The hero needs a better plan, more courage and creativity, ​
      b. Right before the end of this section: All-Is-Lost Moment
      i. Farthest from the MC’s goal as possible
      ii. Antagonistic force seems to have won
      iii. Relational character has disowned MC
      iv. The harder MC falls, the more powerful your story
      v. Example: We always know James Bond is going to win, but what makes it interesting is how desperate a situation he gets in first​
      c. Ends with: Second Plot Point
      i. Happens at the very end of Act II, part 2
      ii. The final piece of the puzzle that is all the hero needs to beat the bad guy​
    4. Act III – The Chase/Final Battle
      a. What is it?
      i. The final battle where the hero ultimately hunts down the antagonistic force and takes care of it.
      ii. It is the most open structurally of all four sections, but the following three goals must be accomplished.
      iii. It does not have to be a literal chase/final battle, but can be a figurative chase/final battle.​
      b. Three goals:
      i. MC gets what she wanted
      ii. Defeat the antagonist
      1. Very common: “The power is in you!” realization that they had the power to defeat the antagonist all along ​
      iii. And Reconciliation with the relational character
      1. Where the main theme is rearticulated, and the relationship is mended​
      iv. The closer these happen together, the more emotional impact the story has on the reader​
      c. Main character can die here, but only if s/he has completed these three goals
      d. Example: Die Hard is an Act III movie. ​

    This information is adapted from the podcast "Writing Excuses." Check it out, it's free and has been an invaluable resource for me.
    It is also combined with information I learned from The link leads to the first post in his story structure series. To see the second post, scroll down to the very bottom of that page.

  4. I think it's best to have as few files as possible, just organize them as best you can. For the book I'm working on, I used to have several different files for storing different information because one file would get too huge and difficult to navigate. Now I found a great way to navigate Word documents, so I dump it all in one file.

    If you have several word documents for a project you want to combine into a single, easy-to-navigate document, here's how to do it:

    1. Copy and paste them all into one document.
    2. Make sure to give each a heading based off its function, like "Characters" or "Plot" or "Setting." The heading doesn't need to be anything special other than having its own line of text.
    3. In microsoft Word, click "View" then "Navigation Pane." In the new pane that pops up, select "Document Map" (which is opposed to "Thumbnail.") This pane allows you make bookmark-like markers (let's call them bookmarks for ease) in your document so you can quickly navigate large files.
    4. Word sometimes tries to guess where to put these bookmarks, so you might already have some. They probably are of little use to you, so get rid of them by clicking "Edit" and "Select all" to highlight your entire document, then "Format" and "Paragraph." Where it says "Outline Level" select "Body."
    5. Now let's start organizing. Highlight one of those typed headings from step 2 like "Characters." Now click "Format" and "Paragraph." Where it says "Outline Level," select "Level 1." The word "Characters" should appear in the navigation pane, and if you click on it (in the pane, that is), it will lead you to the characters section from no matter where you are in the document.
    6. Repeat step 5 for all of your headings. "Setting," "Plot," "Deleted Scenes," etc.
    7. You can also use subheadings. In "Characters," if you have a section for each character, make a heading for each one of those. "Captain Proton," "Doctor Chaotica," etc. Highlight the name, then click "Format" and "Paragraph" again. This time, where it says "Outline Level," select "Level 2."

    After all this, you now have a document map that lets you easily navigate all your hundreds of pages of notes from a single word document. No file clutter, and much easier to backup.