Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Escaping a Widespread Disaster

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): Escaping a widespread disaster

Forms This Might Take: Fleeing an area to escape…

  • a war
  • a tyranical government or regime
  • a terrorist attack causing a major societal disruption that knocks out power, food distribution, the police force, etc.
  • the aftereffects of a catastrophic weather event (tornado, hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption, superstorm, etc.)
  • an imminent asteroid or meteor strike
  • a nuclear explosion (resulting from war or an accident at a nearby power plant)
  • a deadly plague
  • the zombie apocalypse

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

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Stockpiling survival supplies
  • Inventorying one’s materials to see what will be useful
  • Protecting one’s supplies from those who would steal them
  • Rationing one’s supplies
  • Talking to experts to determine the extent of the disaster and where it’s safe for one to go
  • Banding together with others to increase one’s chances of escaping
  • Mapping out an escape route (deciding which roads to take, what time of day/night to travel, etc.)
  • Inventorying the strengths of those in one’s company to determine who is best suited to do which jobs
  • Establishing new and stricter safety routines for one’s family to keep them safe
  • Acquiring a weapon and learning to use it
  • Formulating a plan to stop the disaster from happening (if this is possible)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Falling prey to illness, injury, or violence during one’s journey
  • Becoming separated from loved ones during the journey
  • Moving from a place of financial security into poverty
  • Having to start over (making friends, building a career, learning the culture, etc.) in a new place
  • Trading one place of danger for another (due to civil unrest, prejudice, social inequity, etc.)
  • Losing loved ones who choose to stay behind
  • Mental disorders arising from the journey (PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, etc.)
  • One’s children being assimilated into the new culture and turning their backs on their heritage, religion, culture, etc.
  • Leaving behind things of importance (family heirlooms, property that’s been in the family for generations, childhood mementos, etc.)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Destroyed infrastructure that makes travel difficult (dilapidated bridges, roads blocked with abandoned cars, etc.)
  • Results of extreme weather that make travel difficult (washed-out bridges, roads being blocked by fallen trees or mudslides, flooding caused by broken dams, etc.)
  • Environmental factors that make leaving dangerous (air polluted with radiation or volcanic ash, an airborne disease, etc.)
  • The amount of time it takes to get from one place to another on foot prolonging the journey and increasing the chances of failure
  • Running out of supplies
  • A member of one’s party becoming injured or falling ill, slowing everyone down
  • Power-hungry officials that are reluctant to let people leave
  • Bureaucratic red tape making it difficult to leave one’s country or get into another
  • Criminals and those outside of the law preying on travelers
  • Extreme circumstances ramping up fear and anxiety in other groups, leading to unnecessary conflicts with one’s party
  • Conflict within one’s group (over which way to go, how to ration supplies, who should be in charge, etc.)
  • Letting someone into the group who turns out to be a threat
  • Reaching one’s destination and being denied access

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

A Knack for LanguagesArcheryBasic First AidBlending InGaining the Trust of OthersESP (Clairvoyance)Enhanced HearingEnhanced Sense of SmellFishingForagingHagglingHerbalismHot-Wiring a CarKnife ThrowingLyingMechanically InclinedMentalismReading PeoplePredicting the WeatherRepurposingSelf-DefenseSewingSharpshootingStrategic ThinkingSuper StrengthSurvival SkillsSwift-footednessWilderness Navigation

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

  • Death for oneself and loved ones
  • Living a life of oppression
  • Constantly living in fear for the safety and well-being of one’s family
  • Starvation, being exposed to the elements, and other physical hardships
  • Being trapped in an unsustainable place and having to fight for survival
  • Feeling personally responsible for the people in one’s care who die as a result of not escaping the disaster
  • Having to watch one’s loved ones die
  • Seeing loved ones be victimized and mistreated by those in charge by those who take over in the void of leadership
  • Physical, mental, and emotional scars caused by suffering due to not escaping to a place of safety

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • Characters lacking experience with certain survival skills (shooting a gun, hunting, navigating the wilderness, etc.) easily picking them up with virtually no practice
  • The long-awaited catastrophe being averted just before disaster strikes
  • The team dedicated to stopping the catastrophe sacrificing themselves in the final hour to save the rest of civilization
  • Survivors having a natural resistance to a plague (rendering them immune) that is never explained—one that readers are expected to accept at face value

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: Escaping a Widespread Disaster

  1. :Donna says:

    This is a GREAT one for me, Becca! It pertains to the novels I want to write. Thank you! 😀

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