I can't tell you how glorious it is to have two face-to-face critique groups--people who know what it means to write, who are willing to tackle anything and who become invested in your characters and stories. I feel very fortunate.
This is one of the weeks when I've had back-to-back meetings of those groups, so I'm particularly inspired and energized at the moment.
One of the topics that arose was motivation and how it's important for the author to know the motivation of even minor characters. Motivation gives a story roots, kind of like the behind-the-scenes backstory and character sketches you do for your own understanding.
And, yeah, I put up a photo I took of some gnarly roots. Many times we don't get to see the way tree roots twist and intertwine and reach out, how rugged and strong and purposeful they are since they are burrowed into the earth. (This is a Montezuma cypress, which grow to enormous size and old age, perhaps thousands of years old.)
So the reader sees the tree/story and, hopefully, admires its amazingness. But the writer knows all the deep, hidden roots that allow it to be strong and grow. I can hear somebody saying, 'But motivation is a drive. It's movement toward a goal, not a tree.' Yes, it is a propelling force for the characters, but, as a writerly tool, it's part of a story's foundation.
I attended a SCBWI conference that included a round-table discussion with Alyson Noel. One of the things that stuck with me was that she goes back through every scene to be sure that something changes for the character and moves toward the story's end point, at which time the main character should be different than at the start. If this doesn't happen, she alters or cuts the scene. Since I'm deep in revisions, I'm on the lookout for scenes that do not propel the character's development. If we think of our writing as a labor-of-love, I suppose such pruning could be called tough love. I want the strongest story I can write. What about you?