What Motivates Your Character (and Is It Enough)?

You have reasons for coming here (you want to learn more about writing, to communicate as one author to another, or maybe you were baited by that tantalizing title). I have a reason for writing this post (to inform you, to give you a place to discuss, and to ensnare you with clickbait! HAH).

The point is, everything you and I do is brought on by some sort of motivation. We are human, we want, and we will always want.

Your characters should also want something (even if they aren’t human). Coming up with a motivation is easy: Is your thief greedy? Is your president obsessed with power? Is your romantic lead drawn to honor?

However, one motivation won’t cut it if you want to make your characters interesting. So what is the secret?

(I don’t know what your answer is, because I can’t hear you, so I’ll pretend you said, “Yes! Tell me!”)

Well developed characters are torn between worlds. All of your characters should have problems,both internal and external. How do you come up with an internal problem? Take the thief: he might be poor because of a money-hungry, tyrannical regime – but everyone else is just as impoverished, everyone desires wealth.

Your thief needs something to set him apart – your thief needs a second motivation. The key is to set this motivation to conflict with your thief’s original goal.

Let’s say the thief has a plan to steal from the regime, but as he’s spying on the leaders he discovers that the regime needs the money to fight off a genetically-engineered plague that could destroy the entire country. This leads to a choice: does the thief decide to continue with his plan, thereby allowing him to save his loved ones, but dooming the country? Or does he side with the regime, incurring the ire of his family and friends, but giving him a chance to save the country?

Add to this another character who must directly interact with your thief (let’s say a love interest from inside the regime) and you can see how quickly these conflicting motivations will bring life to any plot.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a turning point or a climax in your story, this technique can help you uncover a moment of peaking tension, while also allowing you to create an organic thread of turmoil.

You can do better – The country-saving thief isn’t the greatest story in the world, so I challenge you: in five hundred words or less, create a character with two conflicting motivations – and force your character to make a choice. I can’t wait to read them.

Thanks for reading – don’t forget to comment, leave a like, and follow the blog!

Image by Gareth via Flickr Creative Commons

18 thoughts on “What Motivates Your Character (and Is It Enough)?

  1. Seem i cannot reply to you directly from my blog so I’m doing it here. It’s about the photo you asked about. I believe it is In Ardennes in Belgium, I don’t remember anymore the exact town. I hike around the neighbourhood frequently especially during the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. > I challenge you: in five hundred words or less, create a character with two conflicting motivations – and force your character to make a choice.

    He’s a fairy who thinks it might be possible to build a vessel that brings folks into outer space. The person who’s most likely to be able to craft one is an iron golem. He thinks he an overcome that distaste for iron, probably, but he’s going to need a crew if traveling is going to achieve anything more than a stunt, and it’s not as if the golem can plausibly be left behind once the vessel is built. He decides he’s going to try to make this mad project work anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. (This was a hard one.) Because he thinks like a muse — too much, according to most folks — and believes society is exhausting itself and desperately needs a new world, for its new perspectives, its new understanding of life, its new things to think about.

        Most people think he’s ridiculous, because life is busy and interesting enough as it is, and how can the conceptual world be near exhaustion when it’s at least plausible that a modest group of driven people might form a space going vessel. But the fact that he has got in mind something that’s never been thought of, and that he can make plausible, suggests he might be at least a little bit right.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought of Lord of the Rings – Frodo wants to do the right thing, but he really wants to keep the ring, and he wants to protect his friends, but he doesn’t want to be alone.

    This is a really good point – opposing motivations as conflict/story driver. Conflicts aren’t always external, and internal ones carry more emotions.

    I’ll think about the 500 words. Might take me a few days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if there’s a breaking point for motivations – how many is too many? Now I’m trying to run through all of my favorite characters to figure out how many motivations they were torn between.

      And YES! I’d be excited to see what you write, because when I tried this out, my piece went well beyond 500 words (and it felt like it needed to go even further). But your flash fiction always ends so nicely.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I forgot to say that your image is a work of art. He could be a painting. I love the kerchief, the dirty jacket, the felt hat and the raw cotton jumper. His clothes are well put together and look distinguished in a fallen way. And his expression is epic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was trying to find a picture of someone stealing, and I saw this, and thought – THERE. That’s a man with a hell of a story. It might be something about the eyes, I loved how you described his attire, too. Perfect.

      Of course, all credit to Gareth from Flickr Creative Commons.


  5. Why this post reminds me of Borne Identity… (yes I know it’s not the least related but that’s how my brain works-if it is called working) I might take you on the challenge. In case… can I mentioned you as inspiration? Wait… I think this post reminds me of Skyfall… yes it is.

    Liked by 1 person

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