Character Motivation

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illuminara's avatar

Literature Text

Everyone's heard that characters should have goals, something they want and must strive for, overcoming obstacles and antagonists in order to obtain. Because, well, a story is the record of your character's journey toward achieving a goal.

While all of this is true, I think a lot of writers lose sight of an even more important aspect of character. That is, motivation. Sure, you know what your character wants.


That's the gist of motivation. What is the psychology and reasoning behind your character's goal? If your character is driven to make money, is his motivation greed? To pay off a debt? To support his family?

Motivation is your character's emotional connection with the reader. When the reader comes to understand why your character has set out to achieve his goal, they will understand your character in human terms, relate to him, and become invested in what happens to your character throughout the story.

Without a clear motivation, your character's goals don't mean much. So what if your character is dead-set on finding the treasure of a lifetime? If there is no motivating factor, no one has reason to care whether or not he succeeds.

If your character will do anything to find this treasure in order to prove that his family did not waste generations searching for fool's gold, well, that means something. There is something at stake. Something we can understand. Something we can connect with and care about.

Now take the time to ask yourself what motivates your characters. What are the stakes? Do your readers care about what happens to your character? Will they keep reading to find out if he accomplishes his goal?

If not, take the time to build a strong motivation for your character or change his goal to align with a motivation that your readers can latch onto.
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© 2010 - 2022 illuminara
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DragonLord-Rhea's avatar
hey! your tutorial is permanently featured in this-> [link]
just thought you'd want to know :)
FantasyStock's avatar
This tutorial has been used in the following news article:
:star: Introduction to Tutorials at deviantART

Thank you so much for taking the time to produce guides to help artists!
illuminara's avatar
Thanks for featuring me! :aww:
RavensQuill's avatar
Something we all do well to reflect on from time to time. Congrats on the DLD!
RavensQuill's avatar
LadyofGaerdon's avatar
Thank you for this. It's very helpful. I find that I do give my characters motivations, but it's nice to see it put into writing why doing that is so important. Congrats on the DLD!
illuminara's avatar
Thanks! It's good to hear that other people think about these things too. =)
DailyLitDeviations's avatar
Your wonderful literary work has been chosen to be featured by DLD (Daily Literature Deviations) in a news article that can be found here [link]
Be sure to check out the other artists featured and show your support by :+fav:ing the News Article.

Keep writing and keep creating.
illuminara's avatar
LASERCUNT's avatar
thnx, this helped me understand how to develop my plots so much better
ShankSilenzikilu's avatar
Gah, now I'll need to rethink my main character's motivation. After reading this, I've realized that my main character might not even have a good reason for what he does. At least, not in the beginning...
illuminara's avatar
That's an easy problem to have. Now that you realize it, I'm sure you'll figure out who to fix it. =)
ShankSilenzikilu's avatar
Uh... did you mean how to fix it? I guess you aren't like me, who rereads everything he types five times before he submits it.
Ragnorex-Ferithrer's avatar
I enjoyed reading this guild and it helped me know more about character development. :) I'm still polishing up my characters in my story. :work:
illuminara's avatar
Glad you liked it, and good luck with that!
Bebsterart's avatar
Yeah, I hate it when characters don't have motivation (and motivation that makes sense). Without it I will promptly stop reading/watching.
Chaldemone's avatar
There's an endless regression to the question of "Why?". Let me reword your example. Someone wants to prove that his/her family didn't waste decades searching for fool's gold. Why? Because (s)he wants his/her family to be happy. Why? And so on. Until you either reach a circle or you give up, haha. ...but I'm over-analysing. :P

I'd use the word "depth" instead of "motivation", but your call.
illuminara's avatar
Yeah, that's true. But somewhere in there, you'll find the bottom line of who your character is and why he's doing what he's doing. And then you stop asking. The point is simply that a character who just does things, who runs through the motions of a plot for no apparent reason, isn't going to be a character your readers can easily connect with and want to read about.
Chaldemone's avatar
Sounds like much of transgressive lit, actually. Going through actions and not really knowing why other than to just explore--but is that sufficient? Hm. When you feel like most people run through actions with no apparent reason, it's debatable whether or not such a character is easy for others to relate to. Maybe he/she's lost.
illuminara's avatar
Maybe. When it comes to creating characters and pretty much any part of a story, I default on the philosophy of my signature quotation by Mark Twain: "The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction must make sense or nobody will believe it."

Yeah, in real life people wander around not knowing why they do things half the time. In fiction, that doesn't make a compelling story. At least, that's what has always held true for me.

On the other hand, exploration in writing is good. I did a LOT of it, and I think every writer should. You have to in order to figure the whole process out and find your "voice" or style or whatever you want to call it. But are those experiments great stories? Not usually.
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