How to fill motivation holes in your fiction #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Today I’ve decided to pick on an excerpt from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, because until she shows some respect to the trans community, she’s lost mine. Now let’s look at the excerpt to see how J.K. fucked that up, too.

“You haven’t seen Ron or Hermione, have you?” said Harry.

“No, I haven’t,” said Percy, his smile fading. “I hope Ron’s not in another girl’s toilet.”

Harry forced a laugh, watched Percy walk out of sight and then headed straight for Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. He couldn’t see why Ron and Hermione would be in there again, but after making sure that neither Filch nor any prefects were around, he opened the door and heard their voices coming from a locked stall.

I have a hard time reconciling actions when characters don’t know why they’re doing said actions. One or two instances of this in a story isn’t so bad, but more than that, and I start considering whether I should DNR the book. I’ve caught this kind of motivation hole in my own work before, and it’s generally fixable. I just have to sit back and brainstorm a motivation that logically fits the action, preferably one that involves more than a gut feeling. Off the top of my head for the example above,

He couldn’t see why Ron and Hermione would be in there again, but after having looked everywhere else, it wouldn’t hurt to check.

The title of this post, How to fill motivation holes in your fiction, is superimposed over an image of a hand coming through a hole torn in a piece of paper.This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click hereย to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this monthโ€™s edition.

Is character motivation as hard for you as it has been for me? Can you think of a different motivation to fill the hole in the example above? Are there other types of motivation holes that really stand out for you? Chat with me in the comments.

Thank you to Freepik for letting me use this image and this image in this post.

51 thoughts on “How to fill motivation holes in your fiction #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Good post Raimey as motivation is balancing act. We want readers to work out why characters act as they do, so it’s a good one to keep an eye on when revising, (as I am now). I find it easier to make a scene more nuanced than a blank page. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I was trying to come up with other solutions, but they would have required me filling people in with additional story context on why those more complicated solutions would work.


  2. Great point Raimey! Character motivations are so important. It’s one of the main steps I take when editing, making sure motivations are consistent throughout.

    I really like your approach of taking a step back and brainstorming. Something I often do myself, and then get distracted and lose my train of thought altogether! Doh!

    Great post! Looking forward to reading more #AuthorToolboxBlogHop posts too!

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  3. I’m reading the Harry Potter series to my daughter right now, and I find myself doing a lot of on-the-fly editing.

    I, too, have a “hard time reconciling actions when characters donโ€™t know why theyโ€™re doing said actions.” I see that all the time, both in my editing of others’ work and in my editing of my own. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I can see Harry’s exchange with Percy as possibly giving him motivation to check out the girl’s bathroom, but I might be giving the passage, taken from its larger context, too much credit. Regardless, your rewrite shows how simple it can sometimes be to fix these motivation holes.

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  4. I don’t know if I’ve thought about that before. Like I *know* why I have a character do what they do, but I never actually stopped to consider to see if they show the why. Can’t remember if my betas have dinged me on that, but it is something I’ll need to pay better attention to in the future. Great post.

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  5. Great example ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’ve always loved Harry Potter fanfiction more than I like the actual books because some of the characters are great but I hate the lack of diversity. J.K’s disrespect to the trans community is awful ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The quality of fanfic writing isn’t always great, but it’s better on Archive of Our Own than It’s a rabbit hole though, and very easy to lose hours sifting through various stories ^^’


  6. My first drafts are full of motivational holes! I don’t think I’ll be able to get to the end without leaving them. I need characters to go there or say this, but it’s not clear why I just need them to so I can create conflict or resolve it. It’s all about figuring that out in the succeeding drafts โ€” and it is not always easy. This is a wonderful reminder of all the work I have to do lol Thank you!

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  7. I do struggle with motivation, almost more than anything else. Why are my characters in love? I dunno, they just ARE because that’s how I see them and hear them and feel them in my head! LOL Thank you for the reminder, and the method for finding motivational holes. Also the major Rowling shade made me snort laugh, so thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the post, Raimey. I definitely think it’s important to have clear motivation for characters, but this particular example from HP didn’t actually strike me in this way. At this point in the text, Harry is wandering around the castle, eager to find his friends (didn’t he just get out of the hospital wing after having his bones regrown?), and at the point he meets Percy, he’s already looked all over for them. When Percy makes the suggestion, Harry has no reason not to follow it, even though, as he says, it seems unlikely. As you say in your rewrite, “it wouldn’t hurt to check.” I think your rewrite makes explicit what is already implied.

    It might come down to how much a particular audience demographic is able to make those inferences. As this is a children’s novel, it might have made sense indeed for Rowling to be a bit more explicit; however, given that this is really a minor plot point, I’m not sure it’s necessary.

    One other thing I want to say–I liked the structure of this post! Right into the analysis without wordy preamble. It’s refreshing energy. Take care, and thanks again for coordinating this great community!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The text, from my recollection, only suggests he’s checked a couple of places, so no, he hasn’t looked everywhere else yet. I agree that Percy talking about the bathroom was unintentionally suggestive and is what provoked Harry to go look in the bathroom and that readers can infer this. The problem isn’t the setup or the resulting action; it’s that J.K. didn’t follow through in Harry’s train of thought. It was like she intended to, but then somehow in editing, “He couldnโ€™t see why Ron and Hermione would be in there again” disjointedly got fused together with “but after making sure that neither Filch nor any prefects were around, he opened the door and heard their voices coming from a locked stall.” Even at the sentence level, cause and effect is muddled. In the grand scheme of things, no, it isn’t a huge problem, which is why I said it isn’t a big deal if I see it a couple of times in a story. It’s a little imperfect, and I decided to point out the imperfection, because this blog hop is about learning about writing craft and book marketing. I also think it’s important to shake the pedestal J.K. Rowling is on. If readers can see her writing has imperfections, they’re more likely to accept that her political beliefs do too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Motivation is something I’m constantly working on. Your fix made total sense and it was super simple! I think it’s a good reminder sometimes a little tweak is all that’s needed. I tend to catastrophize things, so that’s comforting for me to be reminded of. lol

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  10. ๐Ÿ˜‚ What a great post! You’ve definitely got it right, and put this problem into words in a way that I hadn’t considered consciously before. Also, always here for more JKR shade!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think I’ve been spoiled writing in first person so much. Since Ash is so much like me, I really only have to ask what my motivation would be. Still, it does mean I get to speculate about why the other characters do what they do…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love these posts because they really make me think about my own writing. I’ll need to look back because I don’t know if I’ve ever shown why someone does something. Great post to get people thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Character motivations are the why behind the action in the story. It’s why the character does what he does. Great simple fix there in the Harry Potter story. Just as a thought, sometimes the why is placed before an action and the writer believes the reader can remember what and why something happened before. I haven’t read this HP text, but I’ve seen the movie. All best to you, my dear!

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  14. Firstly, I LOVE your opener for this post, and this writer-problem is one I’ve had to work on, too. There’s what we want to have happen for the sake of the plot, but then there’s, you know, the characters. We can’t force one to do something for the sake of the other. As you say, you either find a fix, which there usually is, or you have to ask yourself if the plot really can move that way.

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    1. I have a love-frustration relationship with these kinds of character motivation puzzles. It feels so good to solve them, but for the big ones, until they’re solved, I have anxiety about whether the story is salvageable.

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  15. Raimey, I couldn’t agree more about character motivations and how it’s worth taking the time to fix to make it believable. I’m even more pleased to find an ally against Rowling’s attitude over those of transgender. So disappointed when I found out about that.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It’s interesting, the things I don’t notice until someone else points them out. I think your point is well made, since I read Percy’s reaction as more akin to “I don’t know where he is, but I know where he better not be.” Like in my mind, if Percy actually thought Ron was there, he (Percy) would do something about it.
    The rationale of “because Ron did it once, might as well check again” does feel a little shaky, but I think much of the series operates on a “move quickly” and “Harry mostly follows his nose.”

    I remember reading Philosopher’s Stone and wondering why the characters seemed so keen to crack the mystery prior to the events that establish severe consequences should the villain claim the prize.

    But yeah, there are definitely times where it feels like the protagonist really chases after almost anything “big” that happens across his path with an almost reckless curiosity that seems like a borderline character flaw “oh, let’s see what happens when I do this” esk.

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  17. I really like your beautiful blog. A pleasure to come stroll on your pages. A great discovery and a very interesting blog. I will come back to visit you. Do not hesitate to visit my universe. See you soon.

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  18. Hi There, thank you so much for stopping by my blog and liking my post. You are a star. Also, I hope to try my hand at some fiction in the future and found this your post about motivation for action insightful. Thank you.

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