… Or well, sometimes just a small part of it. All depending on the story you are writing of course.

Altruism

Altruism

This article, if you haven’t gathered already (I admit its not the most descriptive title) is about character motivations. WHY? Why do the characters do what they do? Yes, some of them just do it out of the goodness in their hearts, but there are so many more reasons for a character to become involved in the plot.

Motivations come in all shapes and sizes, including:

  • Altruism: Maybe they just do it because they are a good person. Granted this one is boring, especially if its EVERYONES motivation.
  • Revenge: Maybe the villain hurt the character in some way and the character is just out to get him back.
  • Guilt: The character has done something horrible in the past, and he is trying to make up for it.
  • Knowledge: The villain knows something the hero needs to know. Or maybe just the journey to find the villain will answer the questions the hero wants.
  • Survival: The character is just doing what he has to do to not die.
  • Challenge: The character is looking for something that will challenge his skills.
  • Excitement: The character is an adrenaline junky, and just adventures because its exciting!
  • Loved Ones: The character doesn’t fight because of a grand idea of altruism, he just wants to protect those close to him, and its the only way he knows how.
  • Greed: The character just wants to have it all. Maybe its money, maybe its power, but it should all be his.
  • … and more.

 Why you want a variety of motives

Revenge

Revenge

When all the heroes have the same motive, generally altruism, it tends to get boring. The reason is that everyone is working in the same direction. They just start reacting to the plot given to them in the most straightforward ways and there is a lack of tension.

But think about a story where two people are working together, but one is motivated by challenge while the other is motivated to protect his loved ones.

There is a strong enemy in front of them, but fighting him will waste time and allow lesser minions to sneak behind you. What do the different characters do?

Challenge Hero wants to take on the guy in front, Loved Ones Hero wants to pull back to protect his family. This creates tension between the heroes. Tension is exciting.

Not only is tension exciting, a whole lot of plots will basically write themselves when you think back to your characters motives. How long did it take you to think about what each character would do in the situation above? A couple of seconds write. Creating clear motives for your heroes and villains will let them react organically to the situations around them. Its like a clockwork toy, wind it up all the parts and watch where they go!

Evolving Motives

Guilt

Another fun thing to think about with motives is that motives EVOLVE over time. What if Challenge Hero mentioned above fought the challenging fight, and Loved Ones Hero couldn’t save his family without his help? How would this change their motives?

Challenge Hero becomes Guilt Hero. Fighting to protect others because he once made a mistake and innocent people died.

Perhaps the Loved Ones Hero becomes Revenge Hero. Doing all he can to hurt those that hurt him.

Even in the case that a heroes main motivation doesn’t change, he can still have the motivation evolve. Maybe a loner character who protects the only individual finds a new “family” to protect. Maybe a character who is out for revenge learns that someone else besides his target had been pulling the strings.

Evolving motives are one of the simplest ways to have character growth. And character growth adds depth to your characters.

Multiple Motives

Challenge

In general, while we tend to have “primary” motives, no one really has only one reason for what they are doing. Motives are about prioritizing things. Maybe Challenge Hero is a good guy who will help out those in need, but will go for challenge over helping people if it comes down to it.

Always try to give your characters mulitiple, prioritized motives. This creates internal conflict for the character. What does he sacrifice, and when will he sacrifice it. This, once again, adds depth to the characters.

Conclusion

To me, the best stories are the stories in which the characters motives, both protagonists and antagonists, drive the story, and where the story in turn, drives their motives. Make sure to think about your characters motives, what drives him, what secondary motives does he have, and how does the reaction of the world to those motives cause him to change.

What is the motive of your characters, and how does it affect your story? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

2 comments… add one

  • ZarroTsu April 16, 2014, 8:47 pm

    I’ll parrot an episode of Counter Monkey (Spoony Experiment) a little bit to point out that the best way to convey… anything, really, is to show as opposed to tell, including character motivations.

    Perhaps it doesn’t have to be a physical object, as is the case in Inigo Montoya, but the character should be able to convey a reason to other party members for their goals, and for a reason to join the party without anyone objecting.

    In Inigo’s case, he’s looking for a ‘six fingered man’. He asks people politely if they have six fingers on their one hand, and then explains that the ‘six fingered man killed my father’. Simple, but effective. Other such examples could be a family heirloom that they’re trying to figure out what it means, or a piece of jewelry that they took/found/were left with that might be related to the Big Bad. If they’re things that a character would ask questions about, it conveys a reason why they might join a group of people for help.

    And if they do find answers to their questions, it gives them a goal. It lets them evolve and be characters. It gives them a ROLE to PLAY. in the ROLE PLAYing game. And doing it better than just that, perhaps all their goals converge at a point later on — the Big Bad’s ring is the key to unlocking the power hidden in the family heirloom that can be used to best the six-fingered-man.

    Something else to consider is whether or not a party member’s goal is complete. If their goal is complete, what reason is left that they stay in the party? Is it to simply be there and fill in a slot? If there isn’t, why not let the character’s story end there? There’s no harm in doing so.

    • amerk April 19, 2014, 1:47 pm

      A lot of games already do have party members come and go once their goals are complete, but usually on a small scale, and usually not for the bigger playable characters. Very few would be willing to kick a major contributing character out of the party just because their goal is complete, because it would probably frustrate a lot of players.

      Players become attached to certain characters, especially if that character has been with them since the beginning and over the last 20 hours. A lot of players won’t care the character’s goal is complete. They want them to remain with the team, and probably want to keep using them in battle.

      Of course, trying something new and creative at the risk of frustrating the player is something Square used to be able to do. Final Fantasy VII is probably the most infamous for this, but it paid off well. These days, it seems that most companies don’t like to take as many risks, which has the unfortunate effect of making everything seem stale.

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