Motivation is a fundamental part of writing. It’s what makes us all tick; therefore, it also makes all your characters tick. What they do and why they do it is what drives the story forward to its conclusion. And the driver is always motivation.
Motives push us to act in certain ways, to get what we want, to achieve certain goals. Your characters are no different.
But how does a writer create the motives that make their characters behave in ways that help push the story forward? How do you create those character motives? How do they come to be?
Character motives come from various sources within the scope of the story. It isn’t just about the character wanting something and doing it. It depends on several other factors, too, but they all create character motives:-
- The main character’s goal.
- The storyline – primarily what the story is about
- The characters involved
- The obstacles created to thwart the main character
- The main character’s backstory
The story line will have a bearing on motivation because the thrust of the story is always an ultimate goal (to save the save the world, save the girl/boy, find the truth, uncover the murderer etc.), so the main story always provides that main motivation. This goal is what the story is all about, so anything or anyone that gets in the way of achieving that goal has the potential to produce many different character motives.
Another factor to consider is the other characters within and pertinent to the story. They all revolve around the main character, so their interactions will have a direct bearing on what the main character does. How other characters act and react to certain things can shape what your main character does next.
For instance, you may have the antagonist behave in such a way that provokes a reaction from your main character which provides motivation to do something out of the ordinary or something surprising. Where there was no motivation before, there is one now.
Your characters are constantly judged and scrutinised by other characters, just like real life, so there is plenty of character motivation to be had with their interactions, because there is always a reason behind why people act the way they do. It’s important that the reader understands such motives behind your character’s behaviour.
Obstacles are fun to throw into the path of your characters. Just when things are going so well, you put up a concrete wall to thwart them. They have to find ways to overcome that obstacle and, therefore, find other motives – perhaps the motive to face a particular fear, or do something they wouldn’t normally do or the action it goes against their principles.
Perhaps they are motivated to deviate from their current goal and find themselves caught up in a sub plot.
The more obstacles you create, the more motivational strands you can generate.
One thing that writers tend to forget is the main character’s backstory. It may not seem important, but what happened to your character in their early life has a bearing on who they are in your story – emotionally, physically and mentally.
Maybe you have a character that was abused as a child, so the motives for his or her behaviours are carried through to the present story and drives the story forward in the present. Or perhaps a significant event happened or a trauma that still affects the main character. They provide motivations in the main story.
Elements that happen the past can become character motives in the future.
Remember that motivation is all about making the reader understand what makes your characters tick.
If we look deep enough at our own lives, we’ll see that there is a multitude of motives just waiting to be discovered.
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