How to come up with MOTIVATIONS

3.3K 141 25

Why do people go out of their way to do something in stories? There are two big motives:

1. Emotional.

This is usually the hardest to back up and explain in novels because emotions are not always logical and easy to follow. But it's what gives the characters soul and empathy from your readers. These are things like "You killed my brother, now I'll kill you." or "You bullied me and said I was worthless, so I'm going to prove you wrong."



2. Goal-oriented.

Something they want or have is threatened by someone/something, and they have to stop the person/thing. Or they can get what they want if they do ______.

Goal-oriented motivations are more concrete and easily explained. They're rational. "I want the last cookie in the cookie jar, but my arch nemesis is already reaching for it. I must stop him so I can have the cookie." Or "I'm out of cookies, but my arch nemesis has money to buy more. I must suck up to him so he will buy me more cookies."



When figuring out why your characters take a certain action, try to lean more toward #2. #1 is  usually a weak motive because they may not make the most sense.

For example, I was helping a friend plot out her vampire story. She needed this vampire to attack the MC, a human girl. Her reasoning was that the vampire had tried to kill the MC before and she was the only victim to ever escape, so now he's like "NO ONE ESCAPES ME." and is out to get her.

This is 100% an emotional motivation. In this case, this purely emotionally-driven action is weak because the MC isn't threatening him in any other way, or she isn't the means to get what he wants. He'd be going out of his way to kill someone who isn't important in his life whatsoever.

A much stronger plotline would be if the MC threatens the vampire's goal in some way, so he has to find and kill her. Or she possesses the means (an ability/object/connection with valuable resources/etc.) for him to reach his goal, so he has to find her.

One emotional motivation that could work in this scenario is that the MC took something from the vampire in the past (such as killing a loved one, ruining an older goal, etc.) so he's out for revenge and has to kill her. So a revenge plot.

Big Hero 6 is a great example of an emotionally-driven plot when Hiro finds the person who potentially caused his older brother's death, so Hiro becomes consumed with hate and the desire for vengeance.

(If you haven't seen Big Hiro 6 HOLY CRAP It is easily my favorite animated movie of all time, and one of my favorite movies period [okay, maybe it's tied with Spirited Away]. You all have to watch it. The storytelling, characterization, emotion, cinematography, music, humor, and just everything about it was beyond phenomenal!)

So put a lot of thought into the actions of your characters, protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters alike. Make sure every action they take has a logical, goal-oriented, motivation driving it. Or it can be an emotionally-driven plot, but make sure the reason is strong and not simply just "because I felt like it."

Yuffie's Writing How-To'sWhere stories live. Discover now