… Or well, sometimes just a small part of it. All depending on the story you are writing of course.
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
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 right? 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!
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 he cares about 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.
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.
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!