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.
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): Realizing a dream one was never able to achieve
Forms This Might Take:
- Pursuing a new career
- Getting a degree/going back to school
- Being creative in a way one was never able to fully be before
- Living in one’s dream setting
- Traveling the world
Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): self-actualization
How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
- Making a list of steps needed to achieve the goal
- Putting together a team of experts to help in various areas
- Making difficult sacrifices if it increases one’s chances of success (sacrificing sleep, one’s physical health, friendships, pastimes that make one happy, etc.)
Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:
- Losing friends and family members who don’t understand one’s drive to achieve this particular goal
- Losing important relationships due to one’s obsession with achieving the goal
- Giving up beloved pastimes and hobbies that one no longer has time for
- Other basic needs that are sacrificed in the process (e.g., achieving self-fulfillment but giving up love and belonging in the process)
Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:
- Jealous rivals and competitors
- Physical limitations (e.g., wanting to make a pro-basketball team but being considered too short)
- Sickness and injuries
Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
- Skill-based talents specific to one’s goal (Archery, Baking, Carpentry, Farming, Fishing, Foraging, Musicality, Wilderness Navigation, Wrestling, etc.)
Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:
- Being so obsessed with the goal that one risks a mental breakdown if one fails
- Living an unfulfilled life
Clichés to Avoid:
- The obsessed protagonist who sacrifices everything to achieve his dream and realizes that the sacrifices weren’t worth the result
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.
L. M. Faris says
This is really helpful, thank you! Also bookmarking for future reference.
Sharon M Hart says
Great article! It reminds me of what Kurt Vonnegut said about making your character want something–anything–even if its only a glass of water.