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Character Motives

There I was on a killer writing streak typing my “point of no return” scene when I realized I had no idea why on earth my main character would even choose to say “yes” to the task at hand. That ended said killer writing streak. I was stuck. I realized that her personality type would say no a thousand times before saying yes.

Strong character motive is important in making your story believable. If your characters have weak motives then every action taken by them after making that decision through that weak motive will seem weak as well. I did finally come up with a strong motive for that particular character and thought up a few more motives beyond that that could have sprung a character into action, even one as timid and cautious as mine. If you are having trouble coming up with a motivation for your characters maybe one of these will inspire you!

1. Put a loved one in danger

It’s one thing to know a stranger is in danger, but to know a loved one is? It’s more than enough to make your character act no matter their personality type (unless they’re a sociopath, I guess… but even then, with a little creativity I’m sure you could make it happen). Of course your character will fight themselves.

“Oh, but the danger! I could die!”

“Yes, but your brother needs you. He will definitely die if you do nothing.”

“I know, but... but...”

And so on. You can make their final decision believable by having the character go back and forth like this and by dragging it out a bit. If they say "yes" too quickly, then it’s going to pull your readers out of the story. Also, making the person that is in danger meaningful enough to the character to make them do what you want is helpful, of course.

2. A deep-rooted desire or wish

Yes, your character may despise the wealthy. Prissy, untrustworthy aristocratic trash! But maybe, secretly, they wonder about the lives of the rich. After all, all they’ve known their entire life is sleeping on damp rags on basement floors and foraging for food behind bakeries and restaurants. Their desire or wish may not be stronger than their hate for the rich, but hidden desires can be a funny thing and can come out to play at the most opportune of times. So go ahead, let that desire lead the way.

3. "AHA!" moment

Make their weakness the reason they are able to move forward past the point of no return or whatever plot point you’re trying to get them through by giving them that “AHA!” moment. Of course, you will want to hint at their disgust with a certain trait in themselves early on so their actions aren’t completely done out of the blue. If done right, this could make your scene even more powerful than your character just making the right decision. Your character could find a strength in themselves that they didn’t even know existed until that moment. Until they were face to face with that certain challenge.

4. Life or death situation

There's nothing quite like a close call with death to make you see the world differently. Give your character one of these moments early on so that in the future they will be able to make the decisions you want them to make.

5. Force them into it

This method should be a last resort and in my opinion just a temporary situation. Use this if you absolutely can't think of a motive. Just change it during the editing process. You’ll most likely be changing many things along the way anyways. The most important part of getting through the first draft, is getting through it. This will keep you writing.

Anyways, I'm not a huge fan of this one because I like when the main character plays an active part and makes choices for themselves. Most characters have a few of those “dragged along” moments where they go because someone else goes or they get kidnapped or they fall down the magic hole. Whatever it is that gets your character to do what they need to and keep you writing. But seriously, use this as a last resort. Make your characters active. Let them make things happen instead of letting things happen to them.

What are some of your favorite motives that you use for your characters? Share them with us! Give us ideas.

Challenge: Change one of your characters “dragged along” moments and make your character active. Let them make a choice and move the story forward in that way. See what happens. Happy writing everyone!

Here's an awesome tool if you need inspiration for one of your characters motives: Motivation generator

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