As a writer, you will need to carefully consider different aspects of a character, including their personality and appearance. One of the most important aspects that will need to be accounted for is character motivations, which is the reasoning behind a character’s behavior.

This guide will help you to better understand what it means to write compelling character motivation. 

What Is Character Motivation?

Character motivation refers to the reasoning behind a character’s actions. Essentially, it is the reason why a character will do something or behave a certain way. Character motivation can be employed in different scenes and throughout the novel as a whole. 

If you want to write compelling characters, you need to create good character motivation. This motivation will allow readers to better understand characters intrinsically, as it will give them an understanding of their psychological state.

Even villainous or unlikable characters will need to have strong character motivations. These characters will need to have reasons for acting so badly. 

No matter what kind of story you are writing, solid character motivation will be crucial. This will be especially important for the protagonists and antagonists of your story, as the motivation of side characters will not be as essential for the reader. 

What Does Character Motivation Matter?

As stated, character motivation is vital due to the deeper understanding of the character that the reader will develop. Here are just some of the reasons why writers need to implement powerful motivations:

  • Character motivation will give depth to these characters.
  • This motivation will create conflict in the narrative, as characters will likely have contradictory motivations. 
  • Character motivation is linked to character development. 
  • Readers will develop a deeper relationship with the character which can increase the emotional stakes of the story. 
  • Characters that have no motivation will feel flat, dull, and uninteresting.

How Do You Write Good Character Motivation?

To ensure that you craft expertly-written character motivations, follow these top tips

1. Understand The Difference Between A Goal And Motivation

In literature, characters should have both motivation and a goal. On the face of it, these two terms can seem quite similar. After all, they both symbolize what a character wants. Yet, it’s important to distinguish the nuanced differences between them. 

Character goal refers to something that a character aims to achieve. For instance, the goal of a heroic character could be to save the world. Alternatively, a more greedy character may have the goal of becoming rich quickly.

Meanwhile, motivation represents the motive behind the goal. Why does your character want to achieve this goal? For example, if you are writing a character who is attempting to save their boyfriend, the motivation behind this would be that they love their boyfriend. 

2. Give Each Character Their Own Motivation

Every character should have a unique motivation for acting or behaving. This motivation can overlap between characters, but it is vital to consider why a character is behaving in this way. 

Characters will become more three-dimensional once you have established the motivation. Though it is not essential to give side characters super compelling motivations, it can nonetheless enhance the quality of your writing.

When it comes to writing a story with a hero and villain, these characters will often have contrasting motivations. For instance, a villain may be attempting to destroy the world because they are motivated by hate, while a hero may be trying to save it out of love.

3. Subtlety Is Key

Taking a subtle approach to character motivation is required. Though the reader should have an understanding of what motivates a character, it is often best not to state this explicitly. This is because you can create a heavy-handed writing style. 

Instead, you should aim to convey character motivation through dialogue. Exposition can also be a suitable method of portraying motivation, though you should prevent it from becoming too heavy. 

What Is Character Motivation?

4. Not All Motivation Needs To Be Rational

Generally, it is best to think rationally when giving your characters a motive. However, this does not always need to be the case. Not all humans are capable of rational thinking. Instead, they may be blinded by emotions, such as rage.

Therefore, it is okay to give your character irrational motivations if this fits the personality of the character. In some cases, it can make the character more compelling. For instance, if you are writing a chaotic or mentally unstable character, it can be a good idea to give them an irrational character motivation. 

5. Develop The Motivations Throughout The Plot

The motivation of your character may not be the same throughout the narrative. Instead, their motivations may change as the plot develops. Paying attention to these changes in motivation will allow you to create more developed characters.

6. Differentiate Between Conscious And Unconscious Motivations

Deep characters will have conscious and unconscious motivations. Characters will be aware of conscious motivation. However, the character may not identify their unconscious motivation.

These unconscious motives allow the writer to explore the psychological state of the character.

It’s important to bear in mind that not every character will need both forms of motivation. 

7. Think About The Character

The final but perhaps most important tip is to think about the character. When crafting a character, you should think about what motivation will suit them.

For instance, if you are writing a kind and loving character, hate may not be an appropriate motivation for their personality. 

To help you get into the mindset of the character and what motivates them, you may want to write a list of character traits that you associate with them.

Examples Of Good Character Motivation

Some of the most popular character motivations are linked to the following:

  • Love
  • Hate
  • Rage
  • Fear
  • Loss
  • Loyalty
  • Responsibility
  • Esteem
  • Survival

Character motivations will often be more complex and developed than these one-word qualities. Nonetheless, these are great starting points for motivating your characters. 

Final Thoughts

When writing a book, script, or short story, it can be difficult to create compelling characters that will grip the interest of the reader.

By creating robust character motivations, you will create characters that will make your readers feel emotionally invested.



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