Character Motivation Entry: Catching the Bad Guy/Girl

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

We hope the sample list of ideas below helps you better understand how your character’s motivation drives the story. For a much more detailed entry, follow this link to the official Character Motivation Thesaurus.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Catching the Bad Guy/Girl

Forms This Might Take:

  • Catching a killer before he strikes again
  • Stopping the terrorist before his bomb goes off
  • Identifying a kidnapper so his victims can be freed
  • Stopping an assassin from completing his mission

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

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Traveling to places where the guilty party might be found
  • Enlisting like-minded people for his team
  • Gathering evidence
  • Staking out a suspect’s home or place of business

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Losing the respect of one’s superiors when one goes against the chain of command
  • Slipping down the corporate or political ladder due to pissing off the wrong people
  • Strained family relations due to working long work hours
  • Bankrupting oneself from personally financing the case

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • The perpetrator himself
  • Those who want the perpetrator to remain free
  • Unreliable witnesses
  • Emotional entanglements between the hero and people involved in the case

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

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

  • People dying or being injured
  • A lack of confidence in himself
  • Grieving loved ones of the victim may try to take matters into their own hands through vigilantism

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The detective falling in love with the main suspect who he believes is innocent but is actually guilty

Click here to return to the list of sample 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? 

On 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 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 to provide even more 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. Interested in seeing these expanded character motivation entries?  Head on over and take advantage of our FREE TRIAL!




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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Tammy Archambeau
Tammy Archambeau
3 years ago

Love this!!! Thank you. ❤