By Jill Williamson
Now that you know what kind of background your characters came from, it’s time to focus on the story. Motivation is the most important thing to know about your characters when telling a story. What your character wants drives his or her actions. And you should know the internal and external motivation for every major character in your story.
This is what your character wants out of life. Something that is behind almost every decision he makes, even when he doesn’t realize it.
External Motivation Internal motivation usually stems from life experience. It grows out of your character’s past, his childhood. Let’s use Garrett Thomas as an example. Garrett was raised in an affluent home. His father was a senator, his mother a lawyer. Both parents took pride in their country. Garrett’s grandfather died in Vietnam and Garrett considers him a hero. He wants to make a difference in the world in the way his relatives have. He wants to be a part of patriotism. His internal motivation is serving his country.
This is your character’s goal. External motivation stems out of the present. What does your character want out of the situation before him? This brings in your story’s premise—what your story is about. The external motivation needs to be something that matches your character’s internal motivation. If it doesn’t match, it goes against who your character is. Make sense? Let’s use Garrett again. There could be a number of external goals that identify with his desire to serve his country. Let’s say that he wants to be president. So now we know that Garrett loves his country and wants to serve it, and the external way he hopes to fulfill that internal motivation is to run for president.
Everyone Has Motivation
It’s important to remember that every character in your novel should have both motivations. The fact that motivations differ and clash is what causes conflict in your novel and what makes a novel interesting.
The Protagonist’s Motivation?
We know what Garrett wants. He wants to serve his country by running for president.
The Antagonist’s Motivation?
Every story needs an antagonist. This is technically the “bad guy” but he or she need not be evil. The point of an antagonist is simply to stand opposed to the protagonist’s motivations.
Treat your antagonist the same way you treat your protagonist. Take the time to get to know this person, their childhood, and their goals for the future. Develop how this antagonist will stand against your protagonist.
Whoever the antagonist is, he or she shapes the plot. In Garrett’s situation, the antagonist could be many different people: Garrett’s opponent for president, a girlfriend from his past who knows a secret that could destroy his campaign, an activist who threatens Garrett’s loved ones if he doesn’t back out of the election, a man from the future who tells Garrett that if he wins Garrett will inadvertently destroy the country. As long as this antagonist has strong internal and external motivations for stopping Garrett from running for president, the conflict will work.
Many of your minor characters also need motivations that will come into play. Maybe Garrett’s wife secretly wants him to lose and helps the antagonist. Maybe Garrett’s father wants him to win so bad, that even when Garrett decides to back out of the election, his father, who perhaps was in charge of the campaign, tells the press that Garrett will not drop out. Minor characters are capable of setting the whole story on a different spin. Don’t neglect them.
Think about your main characters and come up with an internal and external motivation for each of them. Do some of the motivations conflict with each other? I hope so! Share your character’s motivations in the comments, if you’d like. And feel free to ask questions too.
Also, congratulations to those who made the top 20 in last round's contest. (Listed in alpha order):
Kayla Anne CP
Jenna Blake Morris