Showing Motivation

One thing I think writers tend to do is tell motivation. I think sometimes we want to explain a character's past and why they're doing something.

I'm not talking about backstory dumps or huge paragraphs of telling. It could be only a line.

The movie Georgia Rule inspired this post. The granddaughter tells someone she was molested, but then she says she made it up. The viewer is left to figure out the truth based on nothing more than the character's actions.

That's showing motivation. In the movie, we're not told:

The mom's an alcoholic so the daughter is an enabler Instead, the daughter acts in certain ways and the informed viewer can guess at her motivation.

The daughter was molested Instead, we're shown how the daughter acts with the opposite sex and we're left to draw our own conclusions on why she does what she does.

It's tempting to tell the reader why a character is acting a certain way, but sometimes I think the story is much stronger if we let the reader intuit the reason.

Do you like to tell motivation rather than use actions to show it? Did you see this movie?


Didn't see movie.

I try to let the characters tell the story by their actions and words and let the reader follow along and learn as they go... "Show not tell."
Jessica said…
Hi Donna, that sounds good to me. I like learning as I go and sometimes leaving the motivation a bit of a mystery at first is a strong hook in and of itself.
I like the action, but think if you're aiming at the reader knowing something specific, the actions need to be clear enough and there need to be enough "clues" so the reader is clued in.

I didn't see that movie, but I heard about the scuttle behind the scenes when it came out.
~ Wendy
Jessica said…
Wendy, that's an excellent point. I think the best time to show motivation is when there's a hook. But if the motivation is something the reader needs to know, then it's better to just show it. You're absolutley right.
Funny about the movie. When I saw it I hadn't heard anything, but afterwards I found out about the drama and also it got bad reviews.
(Jessica--the calendar images will be whatever the writer/poet wants them to be- I don't want people to be reading the book - it's not going to be a TG or SG calender, but the writers/poets calendar! *smiling*)

I love showing motivation and character by action - it's a fave thing for me!
Jessica said…
Kathryn, thanks for the clarification. I didn't know it was a writer/poet calendar. It's really an awesome idea!
Emily said…
I saw the movie, but never thought about applying it to my writing life until you brought it up. Thanks for the post! :)
Diane said…
I haven't seen the movie, but am glad it was well written. Good observation to think about and incorporate. Thanks! :O)
Jessica said…
Hi Emily, I didn't think about it either, the first time I saw it. But then I saw some snippets again and it made me remember how the movie took so long to tell me what was going on, but how that made the story more intriguing. Thanks for stopping by. :-)

Hi Diane,
The movie got bad reviews but I really liked, it's just my opinion that it was well-written.
patti said…
Thanks, Jessica! Never have THOUGHT of this! How provocative! Thanks!

Guess I always prefer action. Now I want to see the movie!!!!

You've got such great thoughts.

Julie Dao said…
Oooh this is a great topic. I have a problem with too much telling and not enough showing, but I definitely like books where I figure out things for myself so I have to incorporate that into my writing somehow.
Erica Vetsch said…
I haven't seen this movie, but I sure got a lesson in showing and telling by reading Appaloosa by James Patterson.

Warning, Appaloosa is NOT Christian fiction. It IS extremely tight writing with no telling that I could find.
Jessie Oliveros said…
I am all for letting the writer intuit reasons themselves, drawing their own conclusions instead of right out telling them. Such good thoughts.

Then again, if you don't do it right, then the book is way to cryptic to be mine, mine might be too cryptic.
Jessica said…
Jessie, that's true. One of mine was like that too and I ended up have to tell a little bit so the reader wouldn't get completely lost.

Erica, I've heard so much about him as a writer. My TBR pile is getting too huge. *sigh* Thanks for sharing about that.
Jessica said…
Patti, you have great thoughts too. :-) I liked the movie, but be forewarned that it's R.

Julie, I think the fact that you're aware of this is a huge plus. You'll figure it out, I bet. :-) And don't forget, telling is a part of writing too, so don't cut all of it. :-) It's a balance.
Elana Johnson said…
I haven't seen the movie, but you bring up an interesting point. Sometimes a character's actions could be for a number of reasons, and that's what makes it hard for author's to hold back on the telling. We want the reader to know that the girl's been molested, not that she's an introvert or a tramp or whatever. We want to create the empathy by telling. At least I do. And it's hard. But sometimes we have to let the reader decide for themselves.
Janna Qualman said…
Well now I want to see the movie...

I think is true; it's so much easier to tell motivation (as with telling anything). But we have to lay it right, layer it right, to get the best result.

Jessica, your posts are always so smooth and informative. Thank you!
Kathy said…
I like to know why a character acts the way he or she does.

I think it might be easier to convey in a movie. Sometimes a good actor or actress shows something in their facial expression that tells us so much. Jodie Foster is good at this. And Tyne Daly.
Jessica said…
Elana, interesting about empathy. When we saw the movie I was convinced by the daughter's actions that she'd been molested. So I liked her and thought she was funny. My sister hated her though, until the truth was finally revealed. Then she finally had sis's empathy. You're right, it's a fine balance. I guess it depends on how important it is that the reader empathizes right away with a certain character.
Jessica said…
Janna, you're smoothing my ego right now! LOL Thank you though.
:-) And yeah, telling is always a temptation.

Kathy, that's true. I'm always struggling to come up with new ways to show facial expressions. I often fall back on the same descriptions, so it's tough.
Nancy said…
I did not see the movie. I think I try to show instead of tell why characters act a certain way. I'm not sure if I have succeeded.

By the way, the plot of the movie sounds very difficult to create. Movie plots are usually not this good. Bravo for the excellent work of the writers.
Wow - this is a really interesting topic! I think I'm guilty of wanting to tell everything. This is an excellent example and you definitely have me thinking! Thanks for the great post. :-)
Jessica said…
Hi Nancy, I liked the movie alot. Not sure why it got bad reviews. *shrugging* Anyway, I try to show too but am sure I fail sometimes at it. It's something to stay on top of, I think. :-)

Hi Shannon, thanks for stopping by, and your kind comment. :-)
Well, I don't know about novels, but in my house I would much rather have my kids tell me why they're behaving as they are than have to figure it out for myself. *sigh*
Call me, uh, unmotivated? LOL!
Dawn Simon said…
I never saw the movie, but it sounds interesting.

I agree. I like it when things are shown and not told, but I also agree with what you and Wendy said: some things need to be clear.

Nice blog! :)
Debra E Marvin said…
Your one point (taking the whole movie to figure out what's going on) made me think about how intriguing that is to me when I read --but in say, a fifteen page contest entry...judges want it all laid out in front of them. Often it's difficult to show motivation without backstory and telling while keeping the pace moving.
Tamika: said…
I really needed this post Jessica! I think my MC maybe revealing a bit too much. You painted this picture so well for me, Rachelle Gardner calls it foreshadowing.

Point well taken.
Hi Jess -

I haven't seen this movie.

When reading, I like the clues authors leave that later prove significant. I'm not sure how well I incorporate this technique into my writing.

Susan :)
Saw that movie awhile back but can't remember too much about it. I remember her being kinda slutty. lol. (good showing)
Karen Lange said…
Didn't see the movie. I would rather show than tell...
Jessica said…
Karen H, yep, she was. LOL

Karen L, me too.

Susan, I'm not sure how well I do this either. I try, and I can recognize it when it's done well, but for my own work it's harder to see things objectively.
Jessica said…
Karen Hossink (so many Karens here, lol!) I would much rather my kids tell me straight up too!

Hi Dawn, thanks for stopping by and commenting. :-)

Hey Debra, you're right about it being tricky. Genre probably plays into this too. Contests are a different breed, imo, because they're usually writing readers as judges. And writers look at books differently than the average reader. At least, that's been my experience. So with contests it does seem like we have to leave less to the imagination sometimes...hmmm, hope I'm saying it right. Well, all this to say I agree with you. LOL

Trust me Tamika, I need this post too! Hahaa.
Maria I. Morgan said…
Didn't see the movie, but I like to draw my own conclusions from characters' actions.

Hope you're having a fantastic Tuesday!!
Jessica said…
It went pretty well, Maria. :-) Thanks for stopping by.
Robyn Campbell said…
EW, Jessica, wonderful post. I love to draw my own conclusions, whether it is a book or a movie. I never did like to be told to do anything. =)
Terri Tiffany said…
Really good point. I know that movie and remember thinking about that when I watched it. I think that is something to work on --for me anyways cause it is so much easier to just tell it:)
Jessica said…
LOL Robyn. Me either.

Terri, it's something for me to work on too, definitely. I seem to go to extremes, either too much telling, or not enought.
Angie Muresan said…
I didn't see the movie, Jessica, but you are making a wonderful point with this post. Actions speak louder than words, right?
Dara said…
Yeah I'm probably guilty of telling motivation than showing it. It's hard not to, at least for me. I'm always afraid I won't be clear enough in my showing or the reader will be confused. Guess I shouldn't second guess myself!

Haven't seen that movie.
Sarah Forgrave said…
Like Wendy said, I like to give clues but not spoil the secret too early. I usually have to tweak my clues in multiple versions before I get the right balance. :-)
I've not seen this movie.

I am getting better about showing rather than telling-it makes it more fun for the reader to use their brain a little.
Linda Glaz said…
Always a balancing act to show well instead of tell, isn't it? Oh well, we keep plugging away, we'll get there.
Jessica said…
Yep, Linda. You're a pro at spotting telling too.

Jeanette, true. :-)

Sarah, me too!

Angie, yep. :-)

Dara, I worry too. Second-guessing is good...up to a certain point, right? :-)
sherrinda said…
I haven't seen the movie, but I know EXACTLY what you mean. It's kinda like show, don't tell, in a way. Sometimes that is an elusive thing to me....I catch myself telling all the time!
Genny said…
Haven't seen the movie, but now I want to. And I think showing is always better than telling. :)
Jessica said…
Kanishk said:
I like learning as I go and sometimes leaving the motivation a bit of a mystery at first is a strong hook in and of itself.

I hope you don't mind but I deleted your comment because I wasn't sure about the link. Thank you for stopping by and commenting! :-)

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