Good morning, character creators and world builders,
I hope you’ve had a wonderful week.
While my novel is in the submission stage, I have been plotting novel 2. I am loving this early stage of getting to know my characters and discovering my plot. It got me thinking a lot about the importance of character motives, and how they drive the story.
I’ve spoken before about how characters have both positive and negative traits, but today I want to talk about their motives and how important they are to the story. Every character should have a want. That is essentially story telling, isn’t it? The characters want something, and the story is a mixture of obstacles, learning curves and conflicts that get in their way while they try to achieve their goal.
Even if you haven’t thought much about the exact motivation that’s driving your character, it’ll be there. And if it’s not, it may be time to consider why not, and whether there should be. Because people rarely do something just because. There’s almost always a reason. A motive. Here are some examples:
I have listed ‘love’ first, because I think this could be the most common motive for many characters (and people in general). Because love drives all sorts of motivation, in many ways. In a tale of romance the character motivation could be to win the heart of the person they love. People avenge people for love, may even go as far as to kill for love. Not only that, but you can explore different types of love and how it moves people. Love for a child, love for a friend, love for a romantic partner. There is forbidden love, unrequited love, obsessive love. Love can make people do strange things, or it can make people push their usual boundaries, and fight for those they love the most. It is an extremely powerful motivator, and can be explored on so many levels.
“Bitterness is a paralytic. Love is a much more vicious motivator.” – Sherlock Holmes, BBC Sherlock
Basic needs can be a powerful motivator for many characters. Survival as a motive can come in the simple form of needing water, food or shelter. And survival can also be a motive on a bigger scale. The drive to escape danger, the fuel to fight back during an attack, the will to keep on living when everything else has been destroyed. Sometimes, a character’s motivation comes down purely to that need, and natural instinct, to survive. And when placed in an dangerous situation people may do things they never thought they were capable of.
It is amazing the lengths some people will go to for power. And this is another exciting motive to explore, because it often fuels the motivation for villains. There is power on the large scale; political power or world domination. Then there is power on a more personal level: being abusive, violent, or controlling to assert power over an individual or small group of people. Like all the examples already mentioned, people may push boundaries when it comes to achieving power. And often, to gain power, there may be a certain level of deceit, cunning or corruption. You can see real life examples of this in the real world, in politics from different parts of the world, and stories of real people who let their need for power overtake their basic human compassion and honesty.
When put under the immense pressure of genuine fear, people may again do things they would normally not be capable of. This makes fear an excellent motivator to explain why characters do what they do to achieve their want. In the case of fear their want is probably to feel safe again, to protect themselves or their loved ones, or to escape the situation that is causing the fear in the first place. As an example, take the Death Eaters in Harry Potter. Some joined Voldemort out of a need for power, out of passion or, in many cases, out of fear. When someone threatens to harm/kill a character and/or their families, that character may find the motivation to do things they don’t agree with, but feel they have no choice in doing. And their need to escape from that is a pretty big motive too.
The need for revenge is a powerful motivator. Again, there are many levels. Perhaps it’s revenge on someone who caused the character humiliation, who cheated on them, who killed somebody they loved, who stole from them…there are so many reasons someone may want to seek revenge, and many lengths they would go to to achieve it. And there is of course, in many stories, the need to avenge somebody, to restore a balance of injustice.
Passion is a motivator that can also come in many forms, but the one I want to talk about is far more lighthearted. I feel there’s been a lot of dark examples so far. Passion is a great motivator for warm, sentimental stories. Passion to achieve dreams and goals, passion to tick off items on a bucket list, or make somebody happy. Sometimes people do things simply because it brings them, or others, great joy to do it. That in itself is a motive, and one that can make for a truly lovely, heart-warming story.
There are just 6 examples of character motives, and there are many, many more. What motivates your characters? Is it one from this list, or something else? I’d love to know, so do comment below or contact me anytime.