5 Basics of Character Motivation

How boring would it be to wander aimlessly without any real driving factor? So, why do we do it to our characters? We love characters because something about them resonates with us. Whether it be a fear that they have or a quirk in their personality that we recognize in ourselves. For some reason, however, when authors are confronted with a blank page, it seems daunting. We end up meandering all over the place and somehow create these flat, dull, impostors that can only be described as caricatures at best. We are so focused on our plot points and making sure our pacing is perfect that we forget to alert the characters of why they should care about the stolen blue egg. Before typing a word, just stop for a moment and consider this: no one does anything without reason. Your character must have motive. So, how do we do that without being too verbose? We push them to the limits. Let’s explore the 5 basics of character motivation.

 

BACKSTORY

backstory is character motivation

 

If your character has an invested interest in the happenings then their motivation is believable. In the example above, I mentioned a blue egg. I’ll continue with this illustration (mostly because I like giving importance to mundane things, lol). If this blue egg was a family heirloom for generations then suddenly stolen. Your character would care. If it was the keepsake of your MC’s now deceased son, as a testament and only reminder of him, and the antagonist crushed it…your character would care. If the blue egg was the center of cultural significance…your character would care.

Tie your character’s history to the event. If it informed at least a margin of who they are, your character motivation is locked. They will undoubtedly place some value on the object and therefore desire it back.

 

RELATIONSHIPS

Relationship character motivation

 

Humans are social creatures. From our birth, we are establishing and maintaining relationship bonds, whether with family or friends or society as a whole. Character motivation is no different. Think of the bonds your character has formed. We sometimes do things for the sole purpose of appeasing others, not just ourselves. If the blue egg was important to another person whom they’ve formed a deep attachment to, it might motivate the character to act.

This relationship does not need to be a romantic one (though this may be the strongest tie for action besides parent/child). Does the blue egg offer healing properties? Is it the only thing that can save a loved one from jail? Is a blue egg omelette the only thing that can help a mother conceive?

Consider how the ramifications if the goal is not achieved. The more dire the consequence, the more desperate the character should be to resolve it.

 

FEARS

 

Fear is a primary motivator

One of the most potent instigators is fear. Character motivation driven by fear is one the basest human instincts. Does the blue egg represent the unborn hatch-ling of a presumably long dead mythical creature? Does its very existence threaten mankind as a whole?

Stop and consider what fear will push the character to do. We do the harshest, most despicable things when we are afraid. Consider also that fear can be crippling. One may totally shut down when confronted with their worst nightmare. Either way, this is one of the most potent forms of character motivation because the reader can instantly connect.

Consider for a moment why Stephen King’s novels are so popular. They stroke this primal instinct. Make it so palpable that the reader is literally transported into the character’s world and fighting for survival.

 

WORLD VIEW

The Council

 

In other words, their beliefs. Character motivations are very much like our own. Besides our primal instincts, one of (if not the most) the most potent examples of this is our world view. More wars have ignited due to religion that any other topic. just think Crusades. Ideological differences however, does not have to mean religion exclusively. There are dangerously opposing political differences that can cause even the most pacifistic of us to blow a fuse.

Has the blue egg become a source of contention between two opposing factions. For example:

On moral grounds: Let’s say the egg is the aforementioned mythological creature.

One faction may think it’s an innocent life that has no connection to it’s kin and therefore deserves protection and a chance to live.

The other side will argue that the blue egg’s occupant is from the same creatures that nearly destroyed the country centuries ago, and therefore, needs to be destroyed before it’s too late and countless lives lost.

Political Grounds: One faction believes the blue egg’s occupant will be a great defensive tool once tamed. They want to rear it and teach it how to fight for the country’s defensive corp.

On the other hand, they think it will a great military weapon. They want to train it to attack neighboring nations and lay siege so they can be the ruling authority in the region.

Make your character motivation an issue of world view and not only will you create a fascinating plot, but also offer some commentary (albeit intentional or unintentional commentary) on the state of affairs in the world today.

NOTE: Just because world views tend to be opposing doesn’t make either side right or wrong.

AMBITION

Anakin Skywalker's devolution into madness

 

Your character wants something. This is perhaps one of the most dangerous character motivations because it can quickly spiral out of control. Ambition unchecked is like a volcano. It festers and broods before exploding and singeing everything in it’s way. Never underestimate it. Even the most disciplined of soldiers can become the most power hungry of tyrants. Never forget that.

Anakin Skywalker is a great example of this! He began his journey as a disciple of the Jedi. He was even believed to the be the Chosen One of prophecy. Soon, however, he started down a dangerous path until he eventually turned his back on even his most trusted of comrades and becomes Darth Vader, one of the most notorious villains in all of fiction! Let your reader see the devolution of their once favorite character. It lends a sense of realism to the frailty of the human psyche that is intoxicating to read.

Is the blue egg be the key to the throne? What does your character want? What impossible thing stands in his way? Will obtaining it give him what he wants? Who will suffer the consequences if he doesn’t get it?

 

BONUS

Don’t be afraid to mix it up. Character motivation is a complex stew. You can mix and match two or more potential motivators for a richer character. Not all who are one track minded are interesting to read. Try playing with various desires. For example:

The blue egg once belonged to the MC’s wife whom he loved very much. He gifted it to her on their wedding day and they lived happily until she died during childbirth (backstory). He gives his teenage son the egg as a token to remember his mother by upon his 13th birthday, when suddenly, some one breaks into the home and steals it. His son becomes drastically ill and the only cure is shavings from the egg (relationship).

As it turns out, the MC actually had the egg of the mythological creature which he fears will hatch and destroy the village they live in and kill his son (fear) but thinks by raising the creature, it could bond to he and his son and be a defensive tool for the family (world view). That is until he learns that whosoever posses the blue egg and the creature inside could become king (ambition).

The possibilities are endless.

 

So there you have it folks, the 5 basics of character motivation. Can you think of anything else? Do you agree with my top choices? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line in the comments below!

 

Like this post? Check out the makings of a great villain here.

Until next time, Genesys Out!

 

WORD!

6 Comments

  1. Reply

    TeAsia M Battle

    January 31, 2018

    This was such an interesting read. It gives such great insight on how characters are created especially using relationships and ambition.

    • Reply

      Sherri Genesys

      February 2, 2018

      Relationships and ambition were my two favorites on the list as well. Especially ambition, there are just so many ways to go with it.

  2. Reply

    Amber

    January 31, 2018

    This is such an insightful post! I definitely think relationships and fears are huge driving factors in character development for fiction writing!

    • Reply

      Sherri Genesys

      February 2, 2018

      Thank you Amber, I’m glad it was insightful!

  3. Reply

    Dani

    January 31, 2018

    This was such a cute and informative post..i am actually in the process of writing my first fiction book and using characters is diff for me bc I’m so used to writing about myself this gives me insight

    • Reply

      Sherri Genesys

      February 2, 2018

      You’re welcome Dani! OMG I love your name, reminds me of Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen! I’m glad I could be of help to you!

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