Continue Tool 5: Character: GOALS AND MOTIVATION

Start from the beginning

What is their motivation?

You have to know everything about your character.

The reader doesn’t.

Less is better.

Types Of Characters

The protagonist is the person you are writing about. They own the story and drive the main story line. You have only one protagonist. Your other characters support the main character and main plot. 

Types of protagonists

Reluctant protagonists

Empathetic protagonists

Negative protagonists

A reluctant protagonist is generally an ordinary character who is thrust into extraordinary situations. Bruce Willis in Die Hard is a reluctant protagonist. This type of character could also be a person with extraordinary abilities, but has no desire or wishes not to use these powers. X-Men is an example of this type of character.

The empathetic protagonist invokes a feeling of empathy in the reader toward the main character. The reader is heavily invested in the goals of this character because they feel some connection with them. Often, the reluctant protagonist is an empathetic one as well.

The negative protagonist, also known as the antihero, can be the most fun, but can also be the most difficult to write. The negative protagonist must have some redeeming quality in order for the reader to want to spend their time with him. The hit HBO series, Dexter, is a good example of a negative protagonist. He is a blood splatter analysis expert for the Miami PD who moonlights as a serial killer. Not very likable sort of fellow. But here is what makes him empathetic…he only kills other very bad people. 

Your protagonist might be a combination of the above. The key is to understand their core personality and how you want the reader to emotionally connect with them.

When developing your protagonist ask yourself what would happen if they failed. This will help you set up your climactic scene, which is what the entire book is driving toward. It will also help lay the foundation for character arc.  And it tells you what’s at stake in your story.

Take your protagonist as you know them in the beginning of the book and dump them into the climactic scene. That character should fail because they have not changed. The arc of the story changes them so that when the climactic scene comes, they are now a person capable of defeating the protagonist.


The antagonist is the character that is causing your protagonist’s conflict. The antagonist drives the plot initially by introducing the problem. If you remove this character, the plot will collapse.

It is just as important for you to know goals and motivation of your antagonist. What is his/her plan? In order to understand how the conflict will play out and to draw believable characters you must give the same diligence to developing the antagonist as you do the protagonist. The stronger the antagonist the stronger your protagonist will be.

Evil is not a motivation.  It’s the result of motivation, which is something much deeper.

Characters In Conflict

Conflict is rooted in different motivations, even if they want the same thing

Three levels to motivation

Inner—the character’s own inner turmoil.

Personal—between characters.

Universal—the character battling the world around them and fate.

Fear is often a primary motivator

Often your protagonist must overcome fear, even if it isn’t their primary motivator

Character And Community

Your main character is part of a larger cast that consists of a community. A sense of belonging is part of human nature. In order to create characters that come alive in the minds of the reader we have to develop secondary characters. Most people want a sense of community and often it forms around the main character. Community can also give you great latitude in tone, pacing, POV.

Kinds Of Community

Ensemble casts, where different characters fill different roles.  For example, in Don’t Look Down, a lot of the humor came from supporting characters, not the hero or heroine.

Disposable characters.  It’s a great dramatic tool to kill off a major character.

Buddy stories.  Think of Lethal Weapon.  Mixing two different types of characters can set up great tension.  Also, readers often like a community around your protagonist.

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