Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Stopping an Event from Happening

Before we jump into today’s thesaurus entry, I wanted to let you know that I’m at Adventures in YA Publishing, talking about 3 Kinds of Story Arcs. If you’re curious to know which one is (or should be) in your story, hop on over and check it out.

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

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Courtesy: Pixabay

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Stopping an event from happening

Forms This Might Take: Stopping…

  • a bomb detonation
  • an assassination
  • the killing of a captive
  • someone from killing himself
  • a war from being started
  • someone from revealing national secrets or plans to one’s enemies
  • the exploitation or execution of a people group
  • a serial killer from striking again
  • an apocalyptic event with catastrophic results (an asteroid strike, a superstorm, a deadly virus, etc.)
  • thieves from robbing a bank
  • intruders from pillaging one’s home or killing one’s family
  • an evil wizard from rising to power
  • a race of aliens or vampires from taking over Earth
  • a gargantuan shark from eating any more humans
  • an estranged and unhinged father from abducting his son
  • a deadly curse from coming true

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): safety and security

Methods for Achieving This Goal:

  • Infiltrating enemy ranks to gather information
  • Gathering allies by identifying those who would benefit from one’s goal
  • Removing, disabling, discrediting, or otherwise undermining any competition
  • Seeking out partners or mentors who can offer expertise in an area where one lacks skill or knowledge
  • Keeping a low profile so as to avoid detection by one’s enemies (hiding out, disguising oneself, adopting a new persona, etc.)
  • Compiling evidence against one’s enemy
  • Utilizing one’s natural skills or talents (being a bomb expert, speaking many languages, having the ability to blend in, being an excellent marksman, etc.)
  • Learning new skills or abilities that one must master in order to succeed
  • Calling in favors to gain resources
  • Sharing information with an adversary who has a common interest

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Getting killed in the process, either because of the inherent danger or purposely by those one is opposing
  • Those in close proximity (emotional and/or physical) to the hero being threatened or killed
  • Losing credibility with loved ones or important people in one’s life due to one’s single-mindedness and passion
  • Close relationships being tested when one isn’t available and misses important events (birthdays, parties, soccer games, dance recitals, etc.)
  • One’s reputation being ruined by one’s enemies
  • Being financially ruined due to paying for one’s quest with one’s personal funds
  • Losing one’s job (due to a boss disagreeing with one’s goal, too many absences, distractibility at work, etc.)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • the person, corporation, race, or group of people one is opposing
  • one’s family and friends (trying to dissuade the hero from pursuing such a ridiculous or impossible goal)
  • physical boundaries (if one needs to travel)
  • financial difficulties that limit one’s resources
  • the authorities in a corrupt society
  • politics (such as a high-profile corporation that’s partnered with one’s villain opposing the hero in a public fashion and making things difficult for him)
  • Prejudice (someone with an axe to grind against a certain people group blocking the hero)
  • Emotional wounds from the past resulting in personal fears (of flying, snakes, water, public speaking, leaving one’s home, etc.)
  • Incompetent allies
  • Physical disabilities and mental illnesses

Talents & Skills That Might Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

See our complete list of talents and skills and find the ones that pertain to your specific story goal here.

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Insecurity over one’s abilities
  • A fear of trying to stop anything like this from happening again
  • Losing one’s job (if the job is tied to one’s goals of stopping a certain event from happening)
  • Being vilified for one’s failure (if one’s goal is a public one)
  • Depression
  • Losing faith in the system (if one’s failure was due to the interference of others)

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The government going to any length to protect its biological weapon
  • A madman at the helm of a country’s nuclear controls
  • The bomb ticking down to its final seconds until one is able to disable it with the simple snip of a wire
  • Because this is more of a general entry that can cover a variety of story goals, the list of possible clichés is long. Identify the type of story you’re writing, consider the stereotypes you’ve seen in the genre, and avoid them by coming up with something new.

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

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About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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4 Responses to Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Stopping an Event from Happening

  1. Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [10.17.16]

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  3. :Donna says:

    You women are simply amazing 😀 Thank you!

  4. Mary Van Everbroeck says:

    Hi Becca: What a great Post. It is filled with many aspects that we need to be in tune with , and to pay close attention to. Thank you.

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