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): Pursuing Justice for Oneself or Others
Forms This Might Take:
- Winning a court case and proving oneself or one’s client innocent
- Enacting a law that will provide equality for a group of people
- Changing the status quo (in a country, school, organization, etc.) in way that brings about justice for someone
Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging
How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
- Inserting oneself (to some degree) into the oppressed group to get a feel for what they’re going through
- Looking for allies within the oppressed group who are willing to go public
- Finding external allies who are in a specific position to help (doctors, judges, lawyers, government officials, celebrities, experts in a field, etc.)
- Educating the people (if necessary) on the situation and what they can do to decrease their own victimization
Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:
- being harmed (physically, financially, etc.) by those who don’t want the status quo to change
- strained relations with family members who are being threatened or attacked due to one’s involvement
- losing friends who don’t agree that injustice is happening and don’t support one’s goal
Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:
- Powerful people or organizations who are deliberately oppressing the group for their own gain
- Legislature and bureaucratic red tape that make change difficult
- Ignorance or denial among the public
Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:
- Oppression and possibly loss of life for those one is fighting for
- A lack of meaning in one’s own life
- Substance abuse (due to guilt or wanting to dull the knowledge that people are continuing to be oppressed)
Clichés to Avoid:
- The crusader who sacrifices everything (health, finances, family) but is unable to overcome the opposition and ends up penniless and alone
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.