Abby Sunderland. Sixteen-years old. Wants to sail the world in a 40-foot sailboat. Alone. Without stopping. In pirate-infested waters.
Sasha Cohen. Twenty-five, seeks her third trip to the Olympic Games. Without having competed in four years.
Rachael Flatt. Seventeen, always the bridesmaid never the bride. Wins first National Figure Skating Championships and is on her way to Vancouver.
These women are not normal. They belong to a superstar gene pool. Few people understand their motivation, their drive. Including me. I admit, after reading about Sunderland's quest in this morning LA Times, I had my reservations about how sane this kid was and worse yet, what her parents must be thinking. My son is a sailor and I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a bit antsy when he sails in rough seas, even though there are fifty other boats beside him. It's just a natural reaction to being so small in something so big.
I'd love to sit down and ask this teenage sailing sensation what motivates her. What will she miss? Did she ever miss those things? How is her heart connected to the sea? How does that feel, exactly?
I'd ask the same thing of Rachael Flatt, who I personally cheered for last night. What propels her to lace up those skates everyday and go after another championships? Did she know that if she kept on digging, putting in the time, that eventually she'd come out on top? Or does she cross her fingers and hope that everyone else falls? I doubt that.
Maybe Cohen did. I don't think she stood much of a chance of making the Olympic team, but I was rooting for her. Mesmerized by her artistry--which is just another way of saying that this lady can move her body so that the music is her. But every elite athlete knows that performance can only come from practice. It's no fluke Flatt won. She's is a finely-tune skating machine.
That's all these ladies do. Practice. Life is all about the triple lutz, the perfect roll tack (for lack of a better sailing term!), the one performance.
But why? That's what I ask of my characters. What motivates them to get up at 5:30, train the entire morning then go to class, eat poached chicken for dinner, then train again?
Why do they do it, if on the one day, the perfect performance eludes them and they have to wait another year--or four--to prove they are the best? What if you're twenty-five and this is your last chance? What do you do the next day? What if you're a thirteen and have to wait until you're sixteen to being allowed to compete in the Olympics? How do you pace yourself? How do they measure success? With only championship medals or are there smaller rewards along the way?
Don't you want to know what these athletes are really thinking????
That's what writing is all about. Knowing the why's of your character's life. As writers we know this is important. Knowing our characters. I'm convinced that if you don't, your story will not resonate with anyone (editors or readers). But even though we know character motivation is the foundation of every story, it's dang hard to do. Perhaps peeking into the life of real people can bring us closer to our character's true self. What does she really want, even though she might not show it? Why does she work out until her body is broken and bruised? How, at such a young age, do they know this? You think it would be easier to know these questions since we're creating these characters, but it's not.
Want to read a story in which the author has done just that? Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork. Simply perfect.
There's so much thinking involved in writing a novel, don't your think? I'm taking the morning to read the plethora of articles on Flatt and Cohen. I'll be clipping them, studying them and waiting to see if any of the words bring me closer to my character's inner workings.
How do you source your material for inner motivation?