Cut the melodrama….

I can tell the weather is going to be bad tomorrow. My ears and head feel like they are going to implode, which generally means a low pressure system is coming. 😦 Yesterday was perfect!

Today I am going back to work on my story; specifically, I am going to work on character motivations. I had a section that was too melodramatic; in fact, it was one of the most important scenes in the story. What I find generally causes melodrama is that the characters do not have real, solid, live or die motivations for their actions. They do shocking things for trivial reasons, or for no reason. Now, if someone does something shocking, but has a really strong reason for doing so, such an action can be heroic, or exciting, or nail-biting. It is real drama, rather than melodrama.

Example:

A little boy in in the store. He wants a candy bar.

“Can we get a candy bar mom? One of those ones with the crispies inside?”
“No,” his mother says. “We’re running late today, and I don’t have time to go to aisle 4 to get one.”
“But mom,” the boy says, his breath coming quicker. “You said we could get one. We need to get one!”
“Not today.”
The boy tears up. His little hands clench into fists. Slowly, his face turns from pink, to red, to purple. “WE NEED TO GET A CANDY BAR! TODAY! YOU PROMISED WE COULD!!” He stomps his foot on the floor. He drops and starts to roll around, crying.

How many of us have seen that before? How many of us thought, “Spoiled brat.” All we see are this kid’s actions. He has no reasons for wanting the candy bar; not that we can see, anyway. All we see is an explosion. So why should we care? We have our own problems to deal with (like that oncoming headache from listening to the kid’s screams!).

But… What if:

“Can we get a candy bar, mom? One of those ones with the crispies inside?” That kind was Dad’s favorite. John knew Dad would like it. Maybe he wouldn’t cry this time is John gave him a candy bar.

“No,” his mother says. “We’re running late today, and I don’t have time to go to aisle 4 to get one.”

“But mom,” the boy says, his breath coming quicker. He needs to do this, this one thing to help his dad before he leaves for Afghanistan. “You said we could get one. We need to get one!”

“Not today.”

She doesn’t understand. John can’t bear to see his Dad leave crying again. He just needs that one thing to make Dad feel better! The boy tears up. His little hands clench into fists. Slowly his face turns from pink, to red, to purple. He can’t seem to breathe right. All he can see is his father’s face, tears streaming down it, while he’s telling him to be a good boy. “WE NEED TO GET A CANDY BAR! TODAY! YOU PROMISED WE COULD!!” He stomps on the floor…

It’s not the best example in the world. But at the very least, you can see how the latter example is more intense, is more interesting, and we actually care more about the characters.

It can be hard at times, because *I* know what my characters motivations are. They could be the most pure, noble motivations out there. But unless that comes through in the story, all the readers are going to see is a whining, kicking brat who wants what he wants just because he wants it. This can be especially useful in creating your antagonists, or a protagonist that is a bit different from your everyday hero.

“I want to rule the world.” We’ve all heard that one before. Think about Sauron in Lord of the Rings. WHY did he want to rule the world?

“i want to rule the world, because it’s the only way in which I can be SURE there will never be slavery.” Well, it’s still world domination, but it has a reason. Something that readers can perhaps sympathize with a little, even though we don’t WANT to be ruled over by a dictator.

The next time one of your stories could use a boost, try looking at each major scene and make sure that your characters’ motivations are clear. Doing so will make your cardboard characters come to life, and bring true drama into your story, rather than shallow melodrama.

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