Understanding External and Internal Motivation
Driven characters are at the heart of good stories. Many craft books talk about the importance of motivation and conflict, but I particularly like the way Coyne explains it:
“There is the external quest for a conscious object of desire like justice or survival or companionship or a prize of some sort like the rave review or victory. Then there is the internal quest, the one the lead character doesn’t know he is in need of until a critical moment in the telling. The interplay of these two quests for objects of desire is what provides a narrative drive on the one hand (external) and insight into the human condition on the other (the internal). (Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid, p. 101)
When I read these lines an exceedingly dim light in my brain grew brighter. I had been trying for five years to show the main character’s internal conflict from the very beginning and it wasn’t working. My characters often sounded “cheesy” to me, not quite normal as they contemplated their inner turmoil. I mean really, who thinks about their own internal conflict in detail all the time. You’d go bat-poop crazy if you did. Now I get it. The internal motivation can be hinted at and made obvious only once, or maybe not at all. It’s there, and the reader get’s it, but it’s not explicitly stated. Holy-tomoly, that is an eye-opener for me.
I’m only writing about highlights of the Shawn Coyne’s book, as it is filled with information and must be read to be fully appreciated. I hope that my notes are helpful and that some of my readers may choose to read the book on their own.
Other Posts on The Story Grid
I’ve read to page 169 (of 334). I think the fifth post will be about why Shawn Coyne thinks the Thriller is the story of choice in North America right now.
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