Character Motivation: Tips And Tricks

When it comes to crafting your characters, one important thing to include is motivation.

It’s not just because motivation will get the story moving forward, but because it will also help you create well-rounded characters readers will relate to and become invested in.

If that sounds like something you want to include in your book, give these tips and tricks a try.

Character Motivation: Tips And Tricks

Show Motivation On The Page

Motivation isn’t just your character needing to be the hero and save the day, it’s why they need to be the hero and save the day.

If they’re taking off toward danger just because, it’s not very interesting. But, if they’re heading toward danger because they once failed to act and it resulted in the death of a friend, and now they want to save others from the same fate, it’s definitely more interesting.

Behind every move of motivation, there should be a solid reason, and that reason should be shown on the page. Don’t leave your reader to guess why your character is doing something. Flesh out the motivation in your backstory, with your character’s internal thoughts, or with a plot twist that reveals why being a hero is so important to them.

Make The Motivation Believable

Just like in real life, your characters should want something. It’s them pursuing that want that will keep your readers turning the page.

As for their motivation, make it believable. Not every reader will relate to your character wanting a silver locket necklace, but them wanting that necklace because it’s the same as one their mother owned before she mysteriously disappeared is definitely something relatable.

It might not be a necklace for the reader, but the motivation to own something the same as a beloved parent can be a shared, believable want. The necklace is irrelevant, but the motivation to own something the same as a lost loved one isn’t.

Pick a motivation that can be universal at a base level, and you’ve got a hook readers will want to cling to.

Don’t Get Motivation Confused With Character Goals

Your story should have character goals, after all, if they aren’t pursuing something tangible, why would a reader want to follow their story? The goal is not the same as motivation, though.

Your MC might have the goal of getting into the best college, and the story may revolve around that goal, with the ending being that they receive that acceptance letter and their goal is achieved. There’s plenty of stories based on this tried-and-true concept. The motivation for wanting this goal is just as important.

Does your character want to get into an excellent school to please family? To take care of the family? To get away from the life they’ll be stuck in if they don’t get into an excellent school? Good motivation is key and separate from the goal. Keep that in mind when crafting your story and back up your character goals with the type of motivation that will see readers rooting for them to achieve it.

Combine Motivation With Conflict

One of the best ways to make motivation work in your story is to combine it with conflict.

This can be an outside conflict with other characters, situations, or an internal conflict your character is struggling with. Multiple conflicts also work and they work well.

Having your characters struggle to choose between multiple conflicts can reveal a lot about them, which makes them human and relatable. Dealing with multiple conflicts adds tension, suspense,  and doesn’t make things too easy, i.e. boring.

Your characters digging deep to overcome their conflicts is what readers want to see, so infuse the motivation with as much conflict as the story allows.

Payoff The Motivation

Once you’ve set out your motivation on the page, made it believable, used it to boost your character goals, and combined it with conflict, don’t forget the payoff.

Readers haven’t followed your characters from page one just to see everything that had driven them forward not be resolved.

Let’s revisit the example character whose inaction saw their friend die. If the story shows them using that motivation to change, but it’s not paid off with them triumphing over their fears and being the hero, it makes for a flat, dissatisfying ending.

Conclude things correctly and give the motivation the payoff the characters, story, and readers deserve. It’ll give you an interesting, satisfying ending—which is something all writers and readers want.

— K.M. Allan

23 thoughts on “Character Motivation: Tips And Tricks

  1. Gah, this is one of the things I have to work on. My characters rarely reveal their motivations, and it feels slightly disingenuous when they suddenly do things out of nowhere. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good advice, Kate! What’s difficult is coming up with motivations that are NOT commonly used over and over. Of course, perhaps they are used over and over because people readily relate to them. There has to be a way of being creative and relatable, right?
    Is your next surgery still on, or was it delayed? Sending hugs your way!

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    1. So true, Alexander. It’s a dilemma picking a tried and true motivation or something unique. My next surgery is early august, so I’ll essentially get over this one, and go straight into the next one 🤣. I’m hoping that will the last surgery I have to have for a very long time, though.

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  3. vishalbheeroo

    I will try to implement the character motivation in my next story and in the blog fiction as in novella, which is almost couple of chapters to end. These are great tips in getting the story moving with substance. Thanks loads.

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  5. Great tips! Often when I am editing a novice author’s work, I’ll inevitably leave a comment such as “why would he do this?”. It’s a fine line, though, between explaining motivation sufficiently for the reader and too much telling. I love the idea of connecting the motivation to the pay off.

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  6. Pingback: Character Motivation: Tips And Tricks — K.M. Allan | Words Deferred

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