Character Motivation

Greetings Champions. It’s been a while since I’ve had a writing tip entry, so today I want to talk about character motivation.

Whether you fly by the seat of your pants and just write or you tediously plot out your stories, one thing that you absolutely must decide on beforehand is character motivation. Your heroes must have motivation as a group and individually, and your villains must have a motive for doing what they do.

If we want to look at it from the villain’s viewpoint, Sauron from Lord of the Rings is an obvious example. His motivation? He wants to take over Middle Earth. He’s very upfront and predictable in his desire, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous. An example of a less blunt villain would be Miss Bingley from Pride and Prejudice. Her motivation is that she wants to marry Mr. Darcey. This desire sets her up as Elizabeth’s enemy, and it eventually affects her friendship with Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, when she concludes that having anything to do with Elizabeth’s family is dangerous.

So Sauron, the dude with the spiky helmet? Yeah, this is him before he went through his gothic phase. He was actually named Mairon and was a good guy until--you guessed it--he was otherwise motivated. The image is NOT mine.

So Sauron, the dude with the spiky helmet? Yeah, this is him before he went through his gothic phase. He was actually named Mairon and was a good guy until–you guessed it–he was otherwise motivated. The image is NOT mine.

Heroes are much the same. Robin Hood steals from the rich and gives to the poor because he wants to provide for those in need. Pirates look for treasure because they are driven to find gold.

Motivated characters drive a plot forward. It’s what pushes them to reach, run, or pursue. This is true in any kind of genre. In horror books the characters are fighting for life, in romance they’re fighting for love. Typically the fate of the world is at risk in fantasy books, and the desire to stop a killer is what pushes the detective to solve a murder mystery. Unmotivated characters make for really boring books. When you craft your plot make sure your characters are motivated to see the story through. Give them personal reasons to, and raise the stakes.

You also must be sure to include personal motivations. In Princess Ahira Azmaveth creates Kohath because he is driven by his curiosity. He wasn’t romantically interested in Ahira at first, but his personal motivation came back and bit him on the rump to make that happen. The plot for Red Rope of Fate revolves around court intrigue, kidnapping, and blackmail. But the romance of Red Rope of Fate starts with Tari’s motivation to befriend Arion because she feels obliged to. Individual motivation will explain why the character does what he/she does.

A character can and should have more than one motivation. Sometimes the character’s motivations aren’t even discussed in the book, but you can see the way they affect the character. (Tari’s career as an Evening Star is a perfect example. I don’t come out and say “EVENING STARS PROTECT HUMANS” until 3/4 through the book, but you can see that mindset in Tari from the first page.) Sometimes books are even better if you don’t tell the readers what the character’s motivation is, but you still MUST give them a defined motivation because it will help you set a pattern for the character to react off.

That’s all for today, Champions. I will see you this Friday!

2 comments on “Character Motivation

  1. Thank you so much for this advice. I am an aspiring writer and have actually been writing for years. This is incredibly helpful and I will now need to make sure I have included proper motivation for my characters, whether it is clearly written or simply suggested.

    • Hi Summer, I’m glad you found this post helpful. As a fellow writer I would like to spare you some of the pains I encountered when learning the craft. Good luck with your writing!

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