Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Pursuing Justice For Oneself or Others

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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Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Pursuing Justice for Oneself or Others

Forms This Might Take: 

  • Winning a court case and proving oneself or one’s client innocent
  • Enacting a law that will provide equality for a group of people
  • Changing the status quo (in a country, school, organization, etc.) in way that brings about justice for someone
  • Making something available to others that one believes to be a personal right (freedom, education, clean water, the ability to vote, etc.)
  • Saving someone from being bullied, persecuted, or discriminated against
  • Bringing an unjust situation to light so it can be addressed
  • Exposing the deeds of an evil person or entity so justice will be served

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Inserting oneself (to some degree) into the oppressed group to get a feel for what they’re going through
  • Looking for allies within the oppressed group who are willing to go public
  • Finding external allies who are in a specific position to help (doctors, judges, lawyers, government officials, celebrities, experts in a field, etc.)
  • Gathering evidence
  • Reading up on prior fights for this group that produced favorable results
  • Organizing rallies and protests to increase public awareness
  • Raising funds
  • Counteracting propaganda (through a blog or YouTube channel, by distributing fliers and pamphlets, with media interviews, etc.)
  • Shifting one’s priorities so this pursuit can be given more time and energy
  • Visiting the oppressed group or area as a way of doing research
  • Studying the situation to educate oneself
  • Exploring alternative solutions that could help solve the problem (different ways of getting clean water to an area, finding cost-effective methods of bringing education to those without it)
  • Educating the people (if necessary) on the situation and what they can do to decrease their own victimization

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • being harmed (physically, financially, etc.) by those who don’t want the status quo to change
  • strained relations with family members who are being threatened or attacked due to one’s involvement
  • losing friends who don’t agree that injustice is happening and don’t support one’s goal
  • one’s reputation being ruined in a smear campaign
  • becoming so impassioned with this culture or group of people that one loses touch with one’s own
  • becoming so obsessed with righting the wrong that one sacrifices one’s family, career, health, or mental well-being
  • Giving up hobbies, memberships in organizations, or passions that once were important but now seem trivial in comparison to the greater wrong that’s happening

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Powerful people or organizations who are deliberately oppressing the group for their own gain
  • Legislature and bureaucratic red tape that make change difficult
  • Ignorance or denial among the public
  • Lack of resources (money, time, volunteers, etc.)
  • Lack of necessary skills
  • Cultural barriers (not speaking the language, prejudices that make one untrustworthy to the people one wants to help, etc.)
  • Naïveté or overzealousness leading to lapses in judgment

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

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

  • Oppression and possibly loss of life for those one is fighting for
  • A lack of meaning in one’s own life
  • Substance abuse (due to guilt or wanting to dull the knowledge that people are continuing to be oppressed)
  • An inability to continue living in the culture that didn’t help the oppressed or refused to see the injustice
  • Depression and mental illness
  • One’s failure proving the naysayers right, reinforcing their ignorance and decreasing the chances of someone else taking up this fight down the road

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The crusader who sacrifices everything (health, finances, family) but is unable to overcome the opposition and ends up penniless and alone
  • The stereotypes that lend themselves to this role (hippies, rabid environmentalists, 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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3 Responses to Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Pursuing Justice For Oneself or Others

  1. :Donna says:

    You know, this one hits home for me ’cause justice is such a driving force, certainly for me. I can’t stand injustice! Love this, Becca 🙂

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