I can’t believe I did not notice this sooner. Maybe I would have if I had properly read more books in my childhood but, the most powerful form of storytelling. The one that will really hit all those emotional notes if you want to affect someone boils down to one very small thing.
Have a simple motive for your character.
Sometimes as an author we like to get carried away with complex sub-plots, motivations, and character complexity. Or at least, I do anyway.
When I played To The Moon, the motivation for the character was very simple. It was an old man’s dying wish to go to the moon. You don’t know why he wants to go to the moon, he doesn’t even know himself. It’s your job as the player to find out what that motivation is.
Figuring out why he wants to go to the moon and experiencing his past memories, has been one of the most touching experiences I’ve had in a video game yet. Before I continue to elaborate, another perfect example of this was the movie 3:10 to Yuma (the one with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe).
In 3:10 to Yuma, you have no clue why Christian Bale volunteers to escort a dangerous criminal to the train heading to Yuma. The bad guy offers him more money than the reward and Bale declines. Even his employers give him a chance to back out of the mission and yet he still goes forward.
When you find out the simple bare bones reason why he did this, you can’t help but be moved. Let’s just put it this way. I was sitting next to my girlfriend and I said, “He only did it so that his [blank]” and I started crying before I could even finish my sentence.
Alright, so I’m not sure how I can tell you to use this in your own writing without spoiling the two. I highly recommend you play To The Moon and watch 3:10 to Yuma. Trust me, you won’t regret it. You also might figure out what I’m talking about, without me telling you.
– To the Moon: Johnny is an old man a day away from dying. You as the player, must alter his memories so that before he dies, he believes that he went to the moon. It’s not until you travel back through his memories that you figure out why going to the moon is his dying wish. It turns out that as a child, he promised his deceased wife that they would reunite at the moon if they ever separated. Meaning, if one of them died, they could see each other again on the moon.
So he wanted to go to the moon out of love for his wife, to be with her one last time. This would give him the peace he needed to let go and pass away in peace. And when you the player, experience his history with his wife, you can’t help but be moved by the story.
– 3:10 to Yuma: Christian Bale is escorting an extremely dangerous criminal to the train station where the 3:10 to Yuma will pick him up. The criminal told him that if he doesn’t let him go, the gang will show up and kill everyone in order to set him free. Just so you know, Christian Bale’s character is a farmer, so he’s not exactly a bad ass killing machine. He has a wife and two boys and as the mission gets more dangerous, opportunities appear for him to turn back. The criminal offers to give him a reward that will set his family for life, he declines; The federal agency that employed him for the mission in the first place, offers to pay him off in order to cancel the mission, he declines.
So why did he do it? Why did he risk his life to take this dangerous man to a train station when the odds were stacked against him? He had a way out, he could have been a made man.
When I found out why he wanted to do this, it was the most powerful moment I’ve had in a movie in a long time.
He wanted his kids to be proud of him. Everything he had done, all the suffering he had gone through, was just so that his kids would respect him as a father again. That’s it. God that was such a good movie.
So freaking simple! Just thinking about these two things gets me misty eyed. If you create a character motive out of love and distill it to its most basic and essential form. Then craft a narrative around that motive where you keep the reader guessing why the character is doing what they’re doing. I don’t see how you can fail to write an emotionally touching narrative.
We as human beings always try to make things so complex and so intricate that we don’t realize that what we are striving for is simplicity. It’s a beautiful thing.
If you’re not a gamer, go watch 3:10 to Yuma on Netflix or Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0013KT94O
If you are a gamer, play To the Moon.
If you’re both, then why are you still here?