Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Realizing a Dream

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): Realizing a dream one was never able to achieve

Forms This Might Take:

  • Pursuing a new career
  • Getting a degree/going back to school
  • Being creative in a way one was never able to fully be before
  • Living in one’s dream setting
  • Traveling the world
  • Inventing something and making it available to the world
  • Completing a bucket list
  • Achieving a sports-related conquest (running a marathon, climbing a mountain, sailing around the world, winning an Olympic medal, etc.)
  • Running for office
  • Pursuing spiritual enlightenment (giving up material possessions, becoming a missionary or monk, going on a pilgrimage, etc.)
  • Having a child when one was never able to do so before
  • Making life better for an underprivileged or underrepresented people
  • Being the first (of one’s race, gender, family, ethnicity, etc.) to accomplish something

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): self-actualization

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Making a list of steps needed to achieve the goal
  • Putting together a team of experts to help in various areas
  • Physically preparing one’s body for the task ahead
  • Getting in the right mental mindset
  • Honing the skills necessary to succeed (taking a class, hiring a coach, participating in an internship, etc.)
  • Studying those who have succeeded in the past
  • Budgeting one’s finances to allow for expenses
  • Purchasing necessary materials
  • Making contacts that can help one along the journey
  • Joining groups, clubs, organizations, etc. where people share the same passion
  • Purging the naysayers from one’s life, or cutting them out of the process
  • Coming up with a mantra or a visual image to focus on
  • Giving up habits that are counterproductive to one’s success
  • Taking on extra work or jobs to pay for expenses
  • Getting rid of distractions (relationships, hobbies, etc.)
  • Re-prioritizing one’s life around the new goal
  • Making difficult sacrifices if it increases one’s chances of success (sacrificing sleep, one’s physical health, friendships, pastimes that make one happy, etc.)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Losing friends and family members who don’t understand one’s drive to achieve this particular goal
  • Losing important relationships due to one’s obsession with achieving the goal
  • Giving up beloved pastimes and hobbies that one no longer has time for
  • Risking failure
  • One’s sense of value or worth being tied to reaching the goal, and losing that if the goal isn’t achieved
  • Bankrupting oneself or one’s family in order to succeed
  • Making enemies and jealous rivals who will try to sabotage one’s efforts
  • Sacrificing one’s health due to one’s singleminded focus on the goal
  • Other basic needs that are sacrificed in the process (e.g., achieving self-fulfillment but giving up love and belonging in the process)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Jealous rivals and competitors
  • Physical limitations (e.g., wanting to make a pro-basketball team but being considered too short)
  • Sickness and injuries
  • Running out of money
  • Family members and friends who don’t understand why the goal is so important
  • Mental limitations (a learning disability, mental illness, etc.)
  • A character flaw that makes success difficult (laziness that causes one to cut corners, a weak-willed nature that undermines one’s discipline, self-doubt, etc.)
  • A missing piece of information that brings progress to a halt (a law one unknowingly breaks, misfiling a necessary piece of paperwork, etc.)
  • Conflicting desires (e.g., wanting to achieve this all-consuming goal but also wanting to start a family)

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

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

  • Being so obsessed with the goal that one risks a mental breakdown if one fails
  • Living an unfulfilled life
  • The lives of others being impacted (if one is unable to bring an important product to the world, if one is seeking to help a certain group of people, etc.)
  • A fear of failure and taking risks in the future
  • Always being haunted by “what could’ve been”

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The obsessed protagonist who sacrifices everything to achieve his dream and realizes that the sacrifices weren’t worth the result

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: Realizing a Dream

  1. L. M. Faris says:

    This is really helpful, thank you! Also bookmarking for future reference.

  2. Great article! It reminds me of what Kurt Vonnegut said about making your character want something–anything–even if its only a glass of water.

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