Character Motivation Entry: Avoiding Certain Death

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?

death stakes, high stakes, stakes in fiction, character motivation

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): Escape Certain Death

Forms This Might Take:

  • Being in an apartment building that catches on fire
  • Being imprisoned by someone (a serial killer, terrorists, kidnappers) who has no intent of letting one live
  • Suffering torture that is growing increasingly violent
  • Being grievously wounded and in need of medical help to survive
  • Being in the path of a destructive element (a forest fire, flood, tornado, nuclear fallout, etc.)

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): physiological needs

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:

  • Track the movements of one’s captors or gatekeepers
  • Assess the weaknesses of others, or a location one is being held at
  • Lying in order to gain support or obtain a measure of power or control
  • Obtain a map of the area
  • Push one’s body to the limits (traveling in extreme heat or cold, resisting fatigue, etc.)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:

  • Being maimed, scarred, or disfigured during one’s escape
  • Having one’s health compromised in the escape to the point where one is never the same
  • Becoming jaded by humanity based on horrors one witnesses during the plight
  • Revealing a secret or closely guarded information in order to escape, knowing it will have difficult repercussions later

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:

  • Too many guards and no opportunity to escape
  • Being secured in some way (handcuffed, bound in rope, secured to other people, etc.)
  • Being in a place where movement is restricted (being locked in a trunk, getting stuck in a tunnel collapse, etc.)
  • Running out of clean air, water, or food

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

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

  • Death

Clichés to Avoid:

  • Guards who get drunk, allowing one to escape
  • Guards who put down their weapons in order to take advantage of the character (sexually, or to beat them up, etc.)

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? 

Logo-OneStop-For-Writers-25-smallOn 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!

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About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

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12 Responses to Character Motivation Entry: Avoiding Certain Death

  1. Mary Van Everbroeck says:

    Hi Angela: This Resource (Character Thesaurus) sounds amazing. I couldn’t locate it. When will it be available? Thanks Mary

  2. ddfalvo says:

    A lot of work went into this – very well done. 😀 Thank you.

  3. Pingback: Writing Links 7/31/17 – Where Genres Collide

  4. Dylan says:

    I have been reading a manga called The Promised Neverland. Where children of the Grace Field House orphanage have their happy lives upended when they find out they’re being raised to be fed to demons. Most of what is listed in this entry is used in the manga. The children are raised to be very intelligent with daily test which the children think is a game because the demons eat only their brains.

  5. Trisha says:

    I remember when I first started posting on Absolute Write back in the day, getting asked this question after posting a query for critique. I struggled soooo hard to figure out what my character actually wanted. Thankfully since then I’ve entirely rewritten the novel in question, and the immediate motive is clearer from the outset. Of course, this motive will change over the course of the novel, so I still have that question to consider overall. 😉

    • Trisha that is great you figured it out, and yes you are right, while avoiding death is a big motivation, in some stories it is a temporary one. I hope the more you think about the character’s missing need, the clearer the other motivation becomes.

  6. A powerful motivator in fiction (and life)!

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