Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Beating a Diagnosis or Condition

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.


Courtesy: Pixabay

Character’s Goal
 (Outer Motivation): Beating an illness

Forms This Might Take: 

  • Determining to overcome an illness that can be deadly, like cancer or HIV
  • Learning to live with a chronic illness (fibromyalgia, diabetes, STDs, lupus, etc.)
  • Learning to live with decreased physical mobility (due to paralysis, loss of a limb, a disease like polio or cerebral palsy, a stroke, etc.)
  • Coming to grips with a diagnosis of mental illness

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

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Adopting a healthier lifestyle (eating organic foods, exercising more, getting more sleep, etc.)
  • Researching the illness or condition
  • Seeking a second opinion
  • Resorting to options one may previously have disdained (natural remedies, homeopathic medicine, spiritual healers, etc.)
  • Trying any option, even risky or questionable ones
  • Becoming more spiritual than one was
  • Bargaining with God (if you heal me I’ll go to church more/be kinder/give up a habit/etc.)
  • Cutting out negative influences
  • Participating in medical trials or taking experimental drugs
  • Identifying the stressors in one’s life and getting rid of them (cutting back on work hours, resigning from an authority position on a board, etc.)
  • Taking more time to relax
  • Spending more time with family
  • Spending more time doing what one loves (writing, gardening, working out, fishing, etc.)
  • Expressing gratitude; viewing every day as a gift
  • Adopting a personal mantra, positive saying, or Bible verse
  • Giving up activities or hobbies that have become too strenuous
  • Recognizing one’s new limits and accepting them
  • Accepting help from others
  • Accepting that one’s life will be drastically different than it once was

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Having to give up beloved hobbies and pastimes that are too strenuous or taxing
  • Losing the respect of others who think the illness is all in one’s head
  • Losing one’s job due to wanting to cut out stress or spend more time at home
  • Missing out on promotions or advancements in one’s career
  • Being unable to help others as one would like due to having to take care of oneself
  • Sacrificing quality of life in favor of gaining more time
  • Having to give up on lifelong dreams upon acknowledging the seriousness of one’s condition
  • Having to give up certain friends due to a need to cut out negativity
  • Giving up one’s independence and having to rely on others

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Side effects from drugs
  • Unforeseen health complications that make it difficult for one to get better (fatigue making exercise impossible, food allergies that make healthy eating difficult, etc.)
  • Depression
  • Negative thought patterns that encourage doubts about one’s ability to get better
  • Inept, indifferent, uninformed, or close-minded medical practitioners
  • Crappy health insurance
  • Not having the necessary financial resources
  • A lack of family support
  • Other medical conditions that complicate one’s new diagnosis
  • Guilt over not being able to care for one’s family as one once could
  • Addictions that make it harder for one to get better (alcohol interfering with medications, etc.)
  • Denial; wanting to get better but refusing to face all the facts and do what’s necessary
  • Religious beliefs that get in the way of healing (relying on prayer and rejecting medical treatment, refusing any medical treatments that aren’t “natural”, rejecting surgery because it defiles the body, etc.)

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

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

  • Death
  • Living a life that is less healthy and active than it could be
  • Falling away from friends and family members who can’t watch one deteriorate without trying to get better
  • Self-doubt and self-loathing; hating what one has become and blaming oneself
  • A shortened remaining lifespan that leaves one in regret
  • Becoming highly negative
  • Becoming mired in resentment and anger that drives others away

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The amputee or paralysis victim who refuses treatment and begs for death, only to  eventually recognize the need to fight for his/her life
  • Deus ex machina cures that rob the character of the ability to heal himself (a miraculous faith healing, a supernatural healing phenomenon—being struck by lightning, a near-death experience, etc.)

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


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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2 Responses to Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Beating a Diagnosis or Condition

  1. They say that the vast majority of books only have six or seven original plots, and that all the others are simply variations of those plots.

    I like Stephen King’s approach to writing. His ideas always start with a “what if?”

    In other words, he tries to figure out what would happen if certain scenarios were to take place. Then he goes looking for the answers, and everything falls into place. It’s a good way to develop a plot and write a good story.

  2. :Donna says:

    Another excellent entry! Thanks, Becca 😀 😀 😀

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