Writers: Turn Your Character’s Problem into a Memorable Story Motif Just Like Alastair Reynolds

Memorable Story Motif

At the Science Fiction Writers’ Week summit, I marveled at how award-winning novelist Alastair Reynolds turned a show-stopping character problem into a memorable story motif.

FREE Replays (Only Until 09/09/22!)

Should You Pre-plan a Memorable Story Motif?

Alastair Reynolds doesn’t like to outline his stories. Instead, things bubble up organically, and that means he deals with a variety of writing issues, such as realizing the lead character can’t fulfill the story goal in the climax scene.

After twenty years of writing, Alastair is comfortable with his process, and he explained how to solve this character problem.

You can use his revision technique too!

How to Fix Story Issues During Revision

Use Alastair’s method to fix problems as you revise to create a memorable story motif.

  1. Identify the specific problem.

    Isolate what’s not working within your story.

  2. Determine the motif you’ll use.

    Choose the motif (i.e., the device or element that will fix the problem).

  3. Identify where you’ll foreshadow the motif.

    Review the scenes leading up to the character’s problem and identify places to foreshadow the motif (i.e., place in earlier scenes whatever will later get your character out of the pickle).

  4. Rewrite scenes to include the motif.

    The key to unlock the problem solution is to go back to earlier scenes, pick out what can be used, and rewrite as needed to make it all work.

Take a Q from 007

For writers who like to outline their stories, here’s a way to pre-plan the use of this technique.

In an early scene (i.e., the Setup), the author Ian Fleming had Q place an invention (i.e., the “motif”) in the hands of James Bond. Later, when 007 got into a pickle, Q’s device was just what the secret agent needed to solve the problem.

Because the foreshadowing pre-established the potential use of the device, even Q’s unconventional inventions felt organic to the story.


Using Alastair’s method, you can:

  • Write your first draft without worrying about all the little details.
  • Identify problems and create solutions as needed.
  • Interject a memorable story motif as you revise.

Leave a Reply

How do you handle those pesky story problems that demand an unforgettable solution?

Free Character Template

4 responses to “Writers: Turn Your Character’s Problem into a Memorable Story Motif Just Like Alastair Reynolds”

  1. Priscilla Bettis Avatar

    I’m an outliner, so Fleming’s approach makes sense to me. Helpful post!

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Thanks, Priscilla. James Scott Bell coined the term “Q-Factor” for this technique, and it’s useful for all genres.

  2. Jacqui Murray Avatar

    I have several of Bell’s books. He’s a clear, writer.

    1. Grant at Tame Your Book! Avatar
      Grant at Tame Your Book!

      Bell cuts through all the noise while encouraging writers with positive how-to tips.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: