Previously, on NaNo Bootcamp…the angels got the phone box! Sam and Dean had brotherly angst! Walt and Jesse made meth! And we talked about goals. (Also, I watch a lot of TV.)

Anyway. We’re still digging into the pre-story stuff. As I mentioned several days ago, a lot of this stuff will develop organically as you go through the outlining process. Some may not fully crystallize until you’re halfway through the first draft. And that is okay. But you need to be thinking about these things as you prepare, because this is going to help your first draft be exponentially more awesome.

The last post was about goals. What does your character want? This is important, and if you don’t know why, go back and read the entry again. Now we’re going to talk motivation. A hundred people might want the same goal, but they might all have different reasons for wanting it. If goals are the “What do we want?” then motivation is “Why do we want it?”

Motivation comes from the root word motive, whose root means “to move.” Motivation, then, is what moves you or pushes you to act a certain way. Motivation is a complex topic, and there are many writers and thinkers out there who have far more insightful ideas than I do about it. I’ll be linking a number of other articles both in this post and at the end for further reading. Take a few minutes to check them out and expand your mind.

Actors often want to know their motivation. If they understand why their character acts a certain way, it helps them deliver a more real, visceral performance. It makes them believable. Your characters will be no different.

In real life, we don’t necessarily know what motivates everyone to do things. But people always do things for a reason. I’m a teacher, and my students constantly do strange things that have me going, “Why in the world would they do that?” Yet, somewhere under the inherent middle school weirdness is always some motivation. Usually it’s attention (connected to love) or acceptance. Sometimes you discover some little element of a person’s past that makes everything click suddenly, so the next time they jump up and start twerking like Miley (you think I’m joking), you understand why. It may not make logical sense, but you know why it’s happening.

In fiction we do have the advantage of being able to see into a character’s head. We can see what lurks in the shadowy corners of their heart and mind. We can see the insecurities and the deep voids that drive them to action. One of the things that can kill a story is a character having no clear or consistent motivation. Why?

Because understanding motivation lets your reader connect to the character. Your reader cannot really identify with the experiences of a Jedi knight or a sixteen-year-old Tribute or a vampire or whatever you may be writing about. However, they can identify with someone with ambitions to be greater than their current status, or someone who is desperate to be loved, or someone who just longs to be accepted.

Motivation makes your characters human and relatable, no matter how inhuman and fantastical they may be. This is just as important for your antagonist. Few villains think they are villains. They are motivated by the same things the good guys are; it’s how they choose to act on it.

Like goals, motivation can be external or internal. External motivation has more to do with the stuff of the world; money, pleasure, physical comfort. They are universal. Who doesn’t want to be comfortable or to be wealthy (at least financially stable, if not filthy rich)? Internal motivation has to do with fulfillment of the self; love, autonomy, guilt. For a more extensive list of potential motivations, try this article by Alicia Rasley.  One other keen observation Alicia makes is that characters often are unaware of their internal motivation, but you as the author must be aware of it.

Another important note is that motivation is constant. Your character’s goals may change throughout your story. However, their motivation usually comes with them into the story and then drives them to meet their goals. What motivates them continues to motivate them throughout the story. They don’t lose that motivation when it becomes inconvenient.

Finally, make sure that there is a legitimate motivation for your character’s actions. Don’t just move them around like pawns. Yes, you are the all-powerful deity over their little fictional world, but you should still let them think they have some control. If there’s not a good reason for a character to go from point A to point B, give them one. If they need to suddenly end up kissing the villain under the mistletoe, there better be a damned good reason that flows with their motivation, other than ‘omg I ship it.’

Tomorrow we’ll dig into actually getting to know your characters. Until then, check out some of the articles below for some more awesome reading on motivation:


And if you haven’t been following, check out the previous days.

 NaNo Bootcamp Reruns

Day 1 – Why Bother?

Day 2 – Brainstorming

Day 3 – One-Liners

Day 4 – Goals

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