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Characters, Get Your Engines Started

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!


August 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionMy eyes drink up layers of colors as if the valley were an exotic libation. I expect to see a cheap paper umbrella among the pinks, greens, blues, yellows and oranges.

If the humidity is up a tad, the sunset causes a riot of pink to streak the sky. The mountains darken to a dusky blue which sets off the brightness of the tall green grass with its late summer swatches of gold.

As usual, my mind wanders beyond the sip of beauty and the questions begin. How to describe that shade of pink? What is behind the mountain? When will I tire of the view? Who lived here before, drinking this same view? Why did they leave?

Sometimes I think fiction writers are simply impatient to understand. Along with asking, “what if…” we also ask, “why?” We want to understand motivations. Literature lingers over character development and takes the span of a novel to contemplate why people do the things they do.

Narrative-driven stories dig right into motivation as if the answer is the ending of the story. Now we know why! Based-on-true-stories (BOTS, thank you, Irene Waters) seeks to answer the “whys” unresolved by history or facts. And that is where my mind most often wanders as I sit outside at sunset, grilling my dinner and drinking my fill of scenic beauty.

Most obvious is, why did Hickok kill Cob McCanless? I also want to know why Cob left North Carolina with Sarah Shull but then sent for his family. And why did his wife follow the man who left her in the midst of a property swindle? Why did they all stay enmeshed in their relationships out west? Why did Sarah leave North Carolina? And why did she stay with Cob in Nebraska?

I want to have eyes for this history. I want to be like those wine tasters who can discern the individual notes. I once interviewed a Cherokee wine-maker who grew grapes in Minnesota. His wines started at the vine. He’d grasp a fistful of grapes and chomp them big and mouthy able to tell what the wine would be like. He didn’t use beakers and additives–he could taste the wine in the grapes. I want to taste this story like that.

It all comes down to motivation. What motivates people can be external–a desire to please, to be found attractive, to be accepted. History tells us that Sarah was shunned by her family and community, never to be forgiven even when she returned to North Carolina almost 50 years later. That’s a strong motivator.

Motivation can also be internal–a drive to succeed, a passion to experience adventure, a fear of failure. One fact about Sarah is that she was 22 -years-old when  she had an affair with Cob. That was unusual for her time period and all her elder siblings had married before reaching that age. Some say she was driven to better herself.

But why Cob? He was educated, a fine fiddler, dashing, powerful and a captivating orator. Maybe the two shared ambitions to have something bigger and better than the harsh mountain living of North Carolina. If my understanding of the clan-mentality is close then Cob would have had strong external motivations to stay married.

Ultimately, I think Sarah bribed Cob. He liked fine things, he desired to be wealthier than he was and she was an accountant trained in her father’s businesses. I imagine that Sarah was so desperate to leave after the shame of her daughter’s birth soon followed by the grief of the babe’s death a year later that Sarah concocted the scheme.

It required Cob’s position as sheriff and involved many others. The scheme itself is similar to the mortgage fraud pulled off by American banks where the note was re-sold so many times that it became difficult to trace the original fraud and by the time it was clear, the homeowner lost the house.

The court records in North Carolina indict many people who re-sold the debts of others after the sheriff collected them, but no one was ever convicted, not even Cob or his deputy. By that time he and Sarah were long fled to the Colorado gold fields presumably financed by others–unwittingly. And those who lost their payments were never reimbursed and were still in debt.

Maybe by then Sarah didn’t care if Cob sent for his family. If her motivation was to escape the shame of North Carolina, she succeeded. She even wrote out a business agreement with Cob for him to pay her as his business accountant. He set her up on the east ranch of Rock Creek, built a profitable toll-bridge, then built the west ranch for his wife and children.

But he sold the east ranch to the Pony Express. Sarah had to move into a one-room sod house similar to the one where Hickok lived. And he never paid Sarah. His brother Leroy paid the note after Cob’s death. Why?

You see, there’s so much to motivation. It can drive a narrative big or small. So that is our quest this week, to explore the motivation of a character in 99 words.

External motivation is called “extrinsic” and is typically behavior based on achieving a reward or avoiding a punishment. Internal motivation is called “intrinsic” and is more personal. Think of it as the difference between playing a game to please your fiancee or playing a game because you find it exciting.

And here’s a drink of my summer sunsets for extra inspiration (may it help you relax and start asking, why):


August 13, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character. He or she may not even understand the motivation fully, but let the reader grasp it. It can be an external or internal motivation (or both). Maybe it’s a decision, a revelation or the beginning of disaster. Maybe it shows fortitude or reveals fear. Let motivation drive your flash this week! Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, August 19 to be included in the compilation.

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.


Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.