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.
Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Mending a Broken Relationship
Forms This Might Take: Relationships founder for many reasons, leaving our characters in a position of trying to put them back together. Your character might find herself needing to mend a less-than-satisfactory relationship with
- an estranged sibling
- a caregiver whose parenting left something to be desired, leading to distance in the relationship
- children she doesn’t know as well as she wants to (due to a long-term absence, divorce, a drug problem that has been overcome, etc.)
- a childhood friend she grew apart from after an argument
- an ex she never quite got over
- a spouse who’s emotionally distant and considering a separation
- a jealous co-worker she now has to work with
- a difficult neighbor
- the person her son or daughter is going to marry
Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging
How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
- Setting up a meeting with the person
- Calling him or her on the phone
- Moving nearer to that person
- Showing the person one’s determination by giving up something important that once stood in the way of the relationship (a job, a hobby, another unhealthy relationship, etc.)
- Reaching out to him or her on social media
- Doing recon to find out more about the person’s interests and passions
- Bringing the person a peace offering (favorite flowers, chocolates, a coffee on a cold day, etc.)
- Arranging to meet the person in a group setting before getting together one-on-one
- Showing interest in the person’s favorite sports team, TV show, music groups, etc.
- Building bridges with the person’s close friends or relatives as a way of getting closer to him or her
- Cutting back one’s work hours or taking a sabbatical so one can devote more time to the relationship
- Creating time in one’s schedule to spend with that person
- Going to counseling
- Recognizing the part one played that contributed to the problem, and owning it
- Asking forgiveness
- Employing a neutral mediator to help bridge the gap
Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:
- Pride taking a hit when one truly looks at the part one played in the broken relationship
- Moving closer to the estranged person and leaving one’s job or friends behind
- Other relationships becoming strained if the people don’t understand why one is reaching out to this person (if the estranged relationship is due to past abuse, for instance)
- Asking for forgiveness that isn’t granted
- Being rejected
- Giving up something one loves (a job, hobby, or relationship) to show the other person how important the relationship is
- Having to face the prejudice and bad feelings of those close to the estranged person who want to protect him or her
Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:
- People in the person’s life who don’t want to see him or her hurt again
- People in one’s life who don’t want to see one hurt again
- Falling into old habits that sabotage the new relationship
- The other person’s fear, resentment, or anger
- Old wounds that are too deep to overcome
- Geographical distance
- Time limitations
- Jealous or petty family members who don’t want the relationship fixed
- Habits that contributed to the break-up that one of the parties still struggles with (addictions, character flaws, etc.)
- Personality conflicts
- An unethical counselor with an unhealthy interesting in one of the parties
Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
- Being a good listener
- Reading people
- The ability to win people over
Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:
- Unfulfilled relationships
- Doubting one’s abilities to be a good parent/spouse/sibling/etc.
- Giving up and regressing into destructive habits
- More broken relationships as one reverts back to patterns one is comfortable with
Clichés to Avoid:
- The big city girl/boy returning to his/her small home town to make amends with someone
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.
Invaluable, ALL of them! Thank you 🙂
Traci Kenworth says
Good one here!!
Bill Buchanan says
You might consider including an emotionally charged, compelling class of setting (Secret or Top Secret) in your Urban/Rural Setting thesaurus. It may have been overlooked, or excluded because it’s specialized and of limited appeal. These settings are compelling because they are secret and carry enormous emotional burden and responsibility for anyone trapped there. When things go wrong, it’s about fear. This top secret world is a special world, foreign to many, difficult to understand, explain, or believe. These secret settings are important because without secure conference rooms approved for classified meetings, top secret development facilities and test labs, aircraft hangars, antenna farms, and missile test ranges used by black development programs, many stories–mine included–would not ring true.
It’s the feelings these secret places convey that’s important in story. Isolation, anxiety, loneliness, and fear dominate secret territory. Emotionally, this secret environment is loaded.
BTW: Please don’t read my suggestion above as critical of your work in any way. Your Emotion, Trait, and Setting eBooks are awesome. I use them every writing day.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Thanks for this suggestion, Bill. We had such a huge variety of settings to choose from that we ended up having to cut a bunch (like your ideas) that were more genre-specific. We’ve toyed with the idea of one day adding more of these entries to the Setting Thesaurus at One Stop For Writers, so we really appreciate your input. And I’m so glad you’re finding our thesauruses to be useful!
Mona AlvaradoFrazier says
This entry came right on time! I’m currently revising my WIP and your thesaurus entry is handy for me to use to review my draft and ask ‘Did I hit most of these points or not?’
Thanks again for such great resources.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Yay for good timing! I’m so glad you got something out of it.
Robin E. Mason says
I got another one for your list, a grown child who is holding a grudge against the parent(s) for taking action he or she disagrees with. ask me how I know this one…
BECCA PUGLISI says
Ahh yes. It’s alarming how much of our writing comes out of our own experiences…