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.
Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Righting a Deep Wrong
Forms This Might Take: there are many types of injustices that may resonate with your character, based on their personality, ties to the past, their experience with marginalized groups or people, exposure to different parts of the world and the challenges there, or to causes and beliefs they hold dear. Possible examples might include
- advocacy for animals or natural resources
- advocacy for a group of people who have suffered mistreatment
- working to bring about change in an area that has been overlooked (the living conditions of children living in third-world orphanages, animal cruelty, poverty, etc.)
Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): Self-Actualization
How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
- soul searching to try and figure out how one might help the situation
- traveling to study the problem and collect data, or witness the results of unchecked abuse first hand (visiting the site of polluted waters, a child labor camp, a factory farming location, etc.)
- take action to protect a person, place or thing that is in immediate danger
Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:
- damaged relationships with family and friends who don’t understand or agree with one’s mission
- financial hardship as one uses one’s own money to fight for others, pay for necessary studies, tests, infrastructure, travel, etc.
- a job loss if one’s mission begins to impact one’s day job
- health deterioration due to stress or testing one’s physical limits
Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:
- corrupt governments and officials
- powerful corporations with deep pockets who an invested interest in having one’s cause go away, or silencing one’s voice
- legal red tape
- witnesses or victims who are being intimidated into staying silent
Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:
- disillusionment at society as a whole
- disappointment in oneself
- self-loathing (if one was personally responsible and unable to fix the damage)
Clichés to Avoid:
- the struggle to win against an adversary (a corporation, a government agency, society’s beliefs, etc.) being straightforward. The reality is any situation of injustice will have many different facets, and will affect many different individuals and levels of power–if it didn’t, the past wrong would have been fixed before now…
Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.
What does your character want more than anything else and what is he willing to do to achieve it?
On the surface, the protagonist’s goal seems to be the most important, but the inner motivation driving your character toward this goal, despite pain, suffering, fear, setbacks, and sacrifice is what really draws readers in.
Understanding the four cornerstones of character arc (Inner Motivation, Outer Motivation, Inner Conflict & Outer Conflict) and how they frame a story is paramount for today’s writers. To help with this, we have integrated our popular Character Motivation Thesaurus into our online library at One Stop For Writers.
Each entry has been enhanced and expanded to provide even more helpful information about your character’s motivation, and is cross-referenced with our other thesauruses for easy searchability. We’ve also included a must-see tutorial on Character Motivation—a crash-course on how unmet needs, when strong enough, will push your character through fire itself if it means they can fill the hole they feel within. Interested in seeing a sampling of our completed character motivation entries? Head on over and register for free!