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): Finding friendship or companionship
Forms This Might Take: Making a friend or building community with others, particularly when one is new to a certain place (such as a school, neighborhood, city, or job).
Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging
How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:
- Joining a local group, club, or team
- Joining an online meet-up group
- Arranging group events in the hopes of building a relationship with a particular person
- Getting a pet as a means of connecting with another living soul on some level
Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:
- The possibility of rejection
- Plummeting self-esteem if the process takes too long or one is rejected too often
Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:
- Negative past experiences that make it difficult for one to be vulnerable with others
- Social and mental disabilities, like anxiety and behavioral disorders
- Flaws that make it difficult for one to connect with others (abrasiveness, dishonesty, possessiveness, being uncommunicative, being withdrawn, etc.)
- A physical handicap that others must see past in order to get to know the real person
Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:
Skills that might ingratiate one with others (Baking, Gardening, Musicality, etc)
Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:
- Feeling isolated from others
- Falling into depression
- Becoming bitter, angry, or vengeful
- One’s self-worth hitting rock bottom due to one’s inability to connect with others
Clichés to Avoid:
- The new girl at school being victimized by mean kids when she tries to join a certain group
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.
Sean Burnside says
I am eagerly looking forward to this thesaurus (like all of the previous ones!).
As a suggestion, how about “Reconciling a betrayal of one’s faith or belief”
This is a timely one, given the current American climate and the deep schism that exists accompanied with a sense in incredulity and betrayal felt by many on both sides of the aisle. However, this could also include literal issues of faith, where one feels their religious faith has been betrayed (i.e. Catholics vs the Abuse Scandal) or emotional faith, such as felt by a husband or wife in the face of a spouse’s adultery.
Since patriotism, faith, and trust form such a huge part of who we are and who we believe ourselves to be, a violation of that faith can have a dramatic effect on our lives moving forward.
I can’t wait to get my hands on this book.
An entry I’d like: Growing up, our protagonist has to deal with the aftermath, the social stigma that comes from being part of a family on the losing side of some brutal social/political/religious showdown.
I love this thesaurus!! (and all of them, really.)
I think it would be cool if you did an entry for Carrying on a Legacy. For example, say the characters’ parents or grandparents were the starters of some legacy associated with the family name, and now it’s up to the character to continue it.
BECCA PUGLISI says
This is a great motivation. I’ll see if I can fit this one in. Thank you, Talia!
What about motivations from the antagonist POV? Almost all of the motivations are from the good guys POV, good overcoming the bad. Amazing books need bad guys, rivals, nemesis, and the ones who drive you nuts, and they have their own motivations, they might be twisted, unorthodox, and selfish, none the less they’re characters with motivations and are needed for dazzling stories. What about a character motivations for power, greed, lust, control, lying, and destruction?
Just a thought.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Love this! Angela and I have talked extensively about different motivations and how they sometimes are the wrong motivation; like, the character thinks X will make him happy and meet his needs, so he spends the whole story pursuing that goal only to discover that it wasn’t what he needed after all. I think a lot of antagonists do this. We’ll definitely explore this further from the villain’s pov :). Thanks, Tammie!
Gifford MacShane says
Happy Anniversary! I love your Emotion Thesauruses (thesauri?) and use them all the time. The one character motivation module I’d like to see is related to the entry on overcoming abuse, but from a caretaker’s perspective rather than the victim’s, and what happens if the caretaker fails to help as much as s/he expects to.
BECCA PUGLISI says
Thanks so much for this, Gifford. So many good ideas coming in from you all!