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): Escaping a widespread disaster
Forms This Might Take: Fleeing an area to escape…
- a war
- a tyrannical government or regime
- a terrorist attack causing a major societal disruption that knocks out power, food distribution, the police force, etc.
- a nuclear explosion (resulting from war or an accident at a nearby power plant)
- a deadly plague
Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): safety and security
How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
- Stockpiling survival supplies
- Inventorying one’s materials to see what will be useful
- Protecting one’s supplies from those who would steal them
- Acquiring a weapon and learning to use it
- Formulating a plan to stop the disaster from happening (if this is possible)
Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:
- Falling prey to illness, injury, or violence during one’s journey
- Becoming separated from loved ones during the journey
- Trading one place of danger for another (due to civil unrest, prejudice, social inequity, etc.)
- Leaving behind things of importance (family heirlooms, property that’s been in the family for generations, childhood mementos, etc.)
Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:
- Destroyed infrastructure that makes travel difficult (dilapidated bridges, roads blocked with abandoned cars, etc.)
- Results of extreme weather that make travel difficult (washed-out bridges, roads being blocked by fallen trees or mudslides, flooding caused by broken dams, etc.)
- Environmental factors that make leaving dangerous (air polluted with radiation or volcanic ash, an airborne disease, etc.)
- Reaching one’s destination and being denied access
Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:
- Death for oneself and loved ones
- Living a life of oppression
- Constantly living in fear for the safety and well-being of one’s family
- Starvation, being exposed to the elements, and other physical hardships
- Physical, mental, and emotional scars caused by suffering due to not escaping to a place of safety
Clichés to Avoid:
- Characters lacking experience with certain survival skills (shooting a gun, hunting, navigating the wilderness, etc.) easily picking them up with virtually no practice
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.