De motive force is wot is derived from de mighty engine!
Seriously though, demotivation is a common problem among writers, and one with which, along with distraction, probably kills more books a-borning than anything else, I wanted to talk about that problem at another level.
At the level of your character. Now, there is bias here. I love a good murder-mystery-whodunnit. Those tend to be driven by motive and opportunity. I’m a great believer in learning and stealing the good bits of craft from other genres, even from my own genre and authors whose work I may not enjoy, but who do have some skills for me to learn (and yes. I do read Romance. I read almost everything, at the right time and place. I just enjoy some things more. I even read Modern Literary fiction, and books of prosy sermons… er the sort of sf/fantasy that’s been fashionable with Trad Publishing for the last while.) There is value there, even if it is learning what doesn’t work. Given the declining sales of these sermons, I decided to learn, and try to avoid writing them. There is a market for everything. But not all markets are equally big or equally easy to penetrate. Some are supersaturated. Some have substantial crossover – many adults read YA, many readers of Military sf will read Hard sf. Some have almost no cross-over, or one directional crossover. Literary sf readers will probably read Literary fiction, probably don’t read Military sf, and Literary fiction readers (unless they came from sf), in general, probably don’t read Literary sf OR Military sf. This, if you’re a writer, provides motive for choosing to write a particular kind of fiction.
That doesn’t mean you can’t pick up valuable techniques and bits of craft from other genres – and really sf/fantasy can learn a fair bit from the whodunit, about character and motive. To do it well you have to know your characters – villains, heroes, secondary characters. To a halfway decent job of it, you have to understand them well enough to get into their heads, and get what is important and valuable to them, so that you can work out what would motivate them to act in a certain fashion. Once you’ve got that – even if there is no murder mystery, just a straight-forward story – it just feels right.
There are two important features here, to do this well. The first is that people are not alike, even if they share some superficial traits. I like to read sf. So does Joe Tru-fen. Joe Tru-fen is single lives on ramen, couch-surfing or in his parents basement, and does little with his life besides interact online with other Trufen and yes, reads sf.
I am married, have kids and a home. I have little time to be online, because I work long hours, and like to fish, dive, garden, cook and even climb occasionally. I have a huge real-space social circle, and quite a large online friendship set, most of whom aren’t ‘Tru-fen’ and many of whom don’t read a great deal of sf, if any.
We’re different. But we both read sf, and may well be the same age, skin color, sex and orientation. We may be from similar backgrounds – or not, and we may have similar social and political outlooks (unlikely, but not impossible).
But the opportunity to go to WorldCon would be sufficient motive for Joe TruFen to do almost anything. He’d be happy spend every cent he’s got, to cram 7 into a small car and crash on any bed he could find, and eat out of con-suites, and have the time of his life. With which I wish him joy. I hope he works out that it’s millions who don’t go to cons but do read the books (and thereby keep the industry alive) that his pleasure rest on. There are just not enough Fen to support many writers, and without them, Cons die.
I’ve been to two WorldCons, the first out of ignorance, to do business and meet people involved in sf (Chigaco, long ago) and the second in Melbourne because it was in my back yard, my editor was coming and at that time I needed work and money. I found them crowded (I like a lot of personal space) and noisy (I live more than a mile from the nearest house). There were some wonderful people to meet, and some business to be done, but honestly, been there, done that. I enjoyed the two small Cons I’ve been to in New Zealand about most – fans were more welcoming and less clique-ish than at the others I’ve been to, but really, Cons come low on my priority list. They’re small business multipliers and networking opportunities, but WorldCon is a poor fit for me (considerably less useful and pleasant the second time than the first, and the first was not really untrammeled joy.) I would probably would never bother to go again. The same is true of World Fantasy, which I actively disliked being at. I’d consider other small cons, I’d go to a Liberty Con for the Baen people, but for me WorldCon not much of a motive to do anything. Perhaps if it was in New Zealand I’d bother to go, because I liked the crowd at the two cons I’ve been to there, and would like to support them. But it comes a long way down on the list of things to spend money on, and it would have to be disposable income. A choice between a new spear, a couple of new books or a con… the con comes last.
That doesn’t mean I don’t read sf, that being able to do so is not a motive. It is. Joe Tru-fen and I do share that common ground. I don’t despise him or demand he changes his priorities. I don’t care. I might not fully understand why he feels that way, but I do begin to grasp what motivates him, and how important it is to him. But just as my longer term goals views mean nothing to him and don’t motivate him, his don’t motivate me. And when you’re writing character or dealing with real people, real life, this does help it to make sense of it all.
We’ve had a few of the tru-fen trying to offer ‘reconciliation’ – some possibly genuine, the others doing a ‘surrender entirely and we’ll let you live a lovely life of a penitent whore at a nunnery, sometimes even being allowed to lick the shit off under our shoes, if you grovel enough.’
What motive have they got? Well, I would guess they want a return to an ante-bellum world, in which they were happy, masters of the (shrinking) con and sf writing world. It was shrinking steadily but it felt as if things were going the direction they wanted. For them WorldCon and the Hugos and being the establishment, the old order, were important. Perhaps they’ve also started to grasp the nettle of math, and seeing they need allies and our income, and to grow Worldcon instead of slow death it and their chosen sf are dying.
Why would any of their desires motivate me, for example? I had no liking for their ante-bellum world. What would make me want reconciliation with people who have tried to damage my career, have falsely accused me of everything from racism to being a neo-Nazi without, as far as I can work out bothering to investigate or read my books? We pulled up evidence of collusion and breaches of the rules by their side– they were happy to ignore those. They cheered when their bloc-voting unread excluded people who I consider recognition deserving friends. David Gerrold and his wooden arseholes will not be forgiven or forgotten. They offer nothing attractive. I want no part of their old world. I didn’t even find most of the books and stories to my taste.
If you were a writer worth your salt you’d realize that to move these two sets of characters you need very different motivation. If you wrote them – either side – responding to the same motivation you would have your book forcefully hurled across the room at the far wall.
You’d also realize that some have far more to lose or gain than others. There are long term and short term motives. The Sad Puppies have very little to lose, (and not much to gain, outside of payback) The libels and slanders and attempts to destroy their lives and careers failed. Neither the Hugos nor WorldCon are very important to them. SF is, but increasingly popular sf is divorced from WorldCon or the Hugos. If both died tomorrow, we would lose some history, but without radical changes, not much else.
To the other side this is life or death important. The clique of Trufen who pushed their favorites (and they’re a small, interconnected socio-politically homogenous group of the same people, over and over) have some short term motives in doing exactly what they did last year and the years before. Long term, for anyone with an intellect above gerbil there is a strong motive for the Trufen in general to get rid of that clique and to reach some kind of accommodation with the Sad Puppies. But that clique are powerful and nasty and regard WorldCon and the Hugos as theirs. They have no interest in a future that they do not control completely.
I don’t see the foresight or commitment to take any of the painful (to them) steps they’d have to take to give the Sad or Rabid Puppies a motive for reconciliation, to get them to sharing motives like going to WorldCon. As a writer I simply don’t see characters of sufficient strength or integrity who have the vision or the following to take those steps.
Besides this an election year, both sides will be heated and angry.
We all love sf.
But the motives for our actions are very different.
I am glad I don’t have to write a happy ending for this one. It’d take a clever author to do it convincingly.