Characters, Get Your Engines Started

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

August 20, 2014

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionWhat motivates a character? Internal or external motivation can be a central theme to story development big or small. In the case of flash fiction, we are looking at the motivations of characters in 99 words and finding that it is a vital factor to getting the story started.

Motivation, you might say, is movement. The following stories show what moves characters and even writers and readers. Settle in for some flash reading.

Stories based on the August 13, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character.

Motivating Mary by Geoff Le Pard

‘Rupert’s contesting the Will?’

‘Yes Mary. He says he and his mother were dependant on your father so should inherit something.’

Mary, her face neutral, seethed inside. Her bloody father and his affair. She couldn’t blame Rupert. He was just feeble.

The lawyer was waiting.

‘We fight.’

The lawyer looked surprised then smiled. Mary glared at him. He only cared about his fee.

She called her husband, Paul, and explained.

‘Well, if you’re sure. I didn’t realise you had it in you. Your Mum would be proud of you.’

Mary said nothing. She wasn’t doing this for her mother.


Daylight Robbery by Sherri Matthews

Placing one hand on the bench’s armrest, the old man heaved himself up on to unsteady legs.

Shivering against the bitter wind, he pulled his shabby coat around his thin frame and walked slowly towards the Post Office.

Relieved that he was alone he approached the clerk, snarling:

“I’ve got a gun! Give me your money now!”

The police found the old man stumbling along the street, necking back his newly purchased whiskey.

Sleet fell as he was bundled into the back of the warm police car and he smiled at the thought of the jail bed awaiting him.


The Job by Pete

Julie took a yoga-like breath, reigning in her emotions. Her eyes opened to the debris of post-it notes vying for her attention. Her whole life was about finding money.

She studied the matted carpet, the empty desks. The rancor from a young mother’s tirade was still drowning in her ears. Why again—her father liked to ask—had she become a social worker?

The gleam. The boy’s innocence as he looked over his mother’s shoulder, his bouncing eyes so bright and hopeful. His smile not yet lost. Everyday her faith in humanity was tested. And every morning she returned.


More Than Numbers by Norah Colvin

The more he stared at the numbers the less sense they made.

They swirled and blurred. He just didn’t get it.

“Numbers don’t lie,” they’d admonished.

“But they don’t tell either,” he’d thought.

The hollowness left when all he knew had been extracted could not be filled with the smorgasbord of numbers loaded on the page.

The richness of lives reduced to mere squiggles.

“This is what’s important,” they’d said, fingers drumming tables of data.

With heaviness of heart he closed the book and walked away.

“They are not even numbers,” he thought. “If they were numbers, they’d count!”


Motivus Merlinus by Tally Pendragon

Why did I manipulate time and place, influencing the outcome of events only I could see? They sent me to Rome! Me, half druid, half prince, yet all wizard. Come back and save us all, they adjured.

I met a wise friar who unveiled mine eyes to a synthesis so sweet, of old and new, of love and fellowship beyond all religions’ pain, free from exploitative gain. Not discarding old for new, but the dawning of a simple way, of acceptance, love, and compassion for all as if for thine own self. I knew how to make it so.


First Date by Sarah Unsicker

Kate examined the lines forming around her eyes. The harsh light in her tiny bathroom amplified every little wrinkle.

Last night was another serial first date. Charlie had been gentle and handsome, with a good sense of humor. He had chosen her favorite restaurant, and they had danced after dinner. She sighed as she remembered moving in unison with the music. But there would be no second date.

“You’re not getting any younger,” her friends told her. “It’s time to settle down!” They couldn’t believe she wasn’t interested. But Kate refused to invite the pain that came from family.


Shelter by Paula Moyer

Jean couldn’t explain why she loved selling towels. When pressed, she would say, “I love playing with colors.” It sounded lame.

Yet every Tuesday – “towel folding day” on the department clean-up
calendar – her mind drifted as she lined up the edges. Drifted to
sixth grade, the year she was her teacher’s scapegoat.

The year she got the 64-color box of crayons. She picked pale pastel crayons, drew cave after cave. Their walls floated and rippled. Jean let them pull her in. She floated in the caves. Safe.

Selling towels – a job. Finding perfect colors for every customer – her calling.


More Than Words by Norah Colvin

“More!” they implored.

She surveyed their eager faces then glanced at the clock.

“Just one more?”

“Okay. Just one more.”

Before she could choose, a book landed in her lap.

“This one,” he said.

“Yes,” they chorused. “It’s a good one!”

She smiled agreement, then started to read.

They joined in, remembering, anticipating.

She turned the page.

“Wait!” he said. “Go back.”

“Did you see that?” He pointed to the page.

“But look what he’s doing,” someone else chimed in.

They all laughed.

The shared joy of a beloved book. Each time the same. Each time a little more.


Character Development by Irene Waters

Janet wanted children but time was ticking. George good father material. Her joy soared as George dropped to his knee holding the ring case. He knew which order she wanted.

He opened the case exposing the huge diamond encrusted ring and proposed.

Janet turned away. She’d have to say ‘no’ despite having waited years for this moment. She couldn’t wear that. She mustn’t love him if she couldn’t wear it but then he mustn’t love her to buy her such a gaudy ring. What would she do now?

“No I can’t.” Tears fell as she ran from the room.


All That She Buried by Charli Mills

Sarah stood straight, wearing her crisp black skirts with matching mutton-sleeve blouse. Cob and Leroy paid for the hole in the ground and their father crafted the pine box that looked more like a diminutive traveling trunk than a baby’s coffin. Yet none showed for the burial. No prayers. No solace. No tears.

A shovelful of dirt buried Sarah’s pride. Another shovelful buried any love she’d ever felt for her parents. By the time the hired gravedigger finished his task without even stealing a glance at her pale face, Sarah was ready to make a crook out of Cob.


Motivation Flash by Laura Burke

The room was dimly lit. Quiet. The air was punctuated by his breathing. Marvin flexed his fingers like a maestro before a recital. He stretched his neck, stretching. Even his bladder was empty. Like his apartment.

“Sir.” The accent was working class. Jersey? “Some questions.” Across the room, officers tinkered with Danny. He was quiet too. Marvin focused on the unshaven chin, avoiding the bloodstained temple.

“Marvin?” She insisted. “Can you tell me why you killed your roommate?”

Peace and quiet. Why wasn’t it obvious? He focused on his bloody fingers.

She looked smart. Let her figure it out.


No Remorse by Susan Zutautas

Amy sat staring out the window, not looking at anything in particular. She felt a numbness she’d never felt before. That’s all she felt. No remorse for what she’d done, no regrets whatsoever.

People have rights and she was bound and determined she’d cash in on hers. Maybe she’d taken it a bit far but that was yet to be determined.

In some eyes what Amy had done was understandable but for some it would be considered in despicable.

The bus came to a stop in front of the courthouse. The guards put the shackle’s back on the prisoners.


A Scratchy Competition by Amber Prince

Glancing around, I screwed the lid shut on my neighbors powder compact and placed it back on her vanity. Then I did a final check of my own make-up before she finished up in the bathroom.

I knew that she would make a final mirror check where she would powder her forehead, for fear of unwanted shininess while on stage.

A bathroom break would have been a relief, but time hadn’t permitted. Instead, I disregarded the empty baggy of itching powder at the bottom of the trash before heading back for curtain call.

This year’s crown would be mine.


A Mind Over Body Event by Ruchira Khanna

Rosie stares at the path that is well lit and has signs all over.

She takes a deep breath and walks gingerly towards the starting line while mumbling to herself, “I have to do this for myself to make a better tomorrow, and moreover, it is just a mind over body thing.”

In a few minutes, the ribbon is cut, and the flag is waved.

The crowd cheers.

Rosie waits up patiently for her turn to cross the offset point and open a new chapter by abandoning all her fears and apprehensions of being disabled for over a year.


Speedy Simpkins by Larry LaForge

He often feels isolated, unprepared. While other students find it easy, he struggles mightily. He wonders how he got into this elite university.

Speedy Simpkins knows his name holds the answer. No one runs faster on the football field.

The pretty coed sitting to his right makes brief eye contact, smiles seductively, and positions her exam paper in his view. His teammates say it’s expected — a little help for those who bring glory to the school. Everyone does it.

But Speedy Simpkins looks straight ahead, focusing squarely on his own work.

His dignity is more important than a grade.

The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.


Santa and the Siren by Sarah Brentyn

Everyone at the holiday ball noticed Rhonda. While most women drank champagne in elegant, black gowns or shimmied to Jingle Bell Rock in red velvet, Rhonda wore yellow.

Hair color was not mentioned, but they talked. Her face was not seen, but they stared. No one left the party that night without having glimpsed the girl in yellow. Yellow and nothing else.

One kind-hearted woman said the dress was “sheer”. Rhonda heard snippets of conversation, some crude, some accusatory. She smiled, thinking of her senior prom—ten years ago when she wore a yellow dress. Not a wallflower anymore.


Motivation Flash by Anne Goodwin

She wants cheesecake and a chocolate fountain but she can’t risk popping the button on her best black skirt. She wanted rosewood but her sister went for cardboard they could decorate themselves. She wants Abide With Me but her sister can’t abide it. She doesn’t want to argue, not here, with their mother at rest between them. Reluctantly, she takes a red felt tip and draws a heart, spells out MUM inside it in green.

She wants to be born again into a different family, a different species, even. She rather fancies coming back as a unicorn next time.


New prompt on Wednesday. All writers welcome!


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    • Charli Mills

      Yes, the unicorns is loose, meandering through stories. 🙂

  1. susanzutautas

    All of these are fantastic!

    • Charli Mills

      Agreed! Motivation really does drive a story and you get that sense of momentum even in flash.

  2. Soulsong of Sharonlee

    A great collection of shorts. Hope to join in next time!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for reading and we’d welcome your writing, too!

  3. Annecdotist

    Fab collection, Charli, each one a jewel in its own way. Sherri’s Daylight Robbery made me smile and who couldn’t identify with Paula’s character’s love of the colour range of those towels?
    I like your phrase “motivation is movement” which I intend to borrow (with suitable credits, of course)

    • Charli Mills

      Definitely a good collection of jewels! Certainly, and thanks!

  4. Sherri

    Bravo! Another wonderful collection here Charli!I loved Geoff’s last line ‘She wasn’t doing this for her mother’ and Pete’s ‘His smile not yet lost.’ Made me cry, that, for that little boy…
    Also love yours Charli, ‘She was ready to make a crook out of Cob’. Oooh, I feel that rage…
    Thanks to Anne for her comment 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      This was a great collection! It’s those motivations! Oh, yes, I think Geoff hit a turning point in his story. Pete has such deep humanistic insights in his writing. We were talking about writing with small children at home and I think the parents who can write through it are indeed sharp, insightful writers. I took longer to figure it out! 🙂 And glad you picked up on Sarah’s rage. I think I may have found her motivation for many things that ultimately led to Cob’s death.

  5. Norah

    As usual a wonderful collection and great reading – the tribe is growing week by week.

    • Charli Mills

      Each week I enjoy the gifts the writers bring!

      • Norah

        They are indeed gifts of themselves. 🙂

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