What is character motivation? Why is character motivation important to the story? I was asked this question by a student in a class I’m teaching at Richard Hugo House. It’s a good question. What is this thing called “character motivation?” To answer it simply–character motivation is the “why” of the story. It’s “why” your character wants what she does. For example, why does she want to be a ski racer? Why does she want to be an artist? Why does he want or need to save the old hotel from demolition? Is it because your character needs to prove something to someone? To herself? Why?
The way to find character motivation is to keep asking the question “Why.” I know..this sounds easier than it is! Sometimes it takes me many drafts before I can get to the heart of the “why” for my character!
However, character motivation is what drives your story. Character motivation is what makes the stakes high and makes the reader care about what happens to your character. (And can’t put down your story!)
In order to find character motivation, try the following writing prompts:
What does your character want so badly she would put herself at risk to get it? Why?
Who is your character’s worst enemy? Why?
What is your character’s biggest secret? Why does she have this secret?
What single event in your character’s life made her the person she is today? What loss? Trauma? Turning point led to this moment when your character’s story starts?
Finding character motivation can be a bit like a treasure hunt. Some stories are lucky and it pops right out. But most of the time…finding character motive takes a lot of digging around in a character’s back story and drafting and drafting and drafting!