Your Character Needs Goals and Motivation

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved
Over the last two posts, I've discussed the barriers your protagonist must face to move your story forward. You can find those posts here:

Make It Worse: Driving Your Story Forward

Gaining Ground: Driving the Protagonist's Story Forward

Continuing with this idea, let's talk about your character's goals and how they play into the barriers you place in front of him. His goals should force him to make decisions. Those decisions should be sucky and suckier.*

Why should the decisions suck?

Your character needs to grow. She can't grow if life runs smoothly with no bumps in the road. She needs to be lugging around emotional baggage at the start of the book. Maybe she's aware of it, maybe she's not. This baggage should keep her from facing her goals. The scenes in your story should force her to face her fears, baggage, and dreams.

This is where motivation must show up in your story.

Why motivation?

If his baggage keeps him from his goals, and the barriers keep piling up, your story will die a quick death. BUT if you add a strong motivation to move forward in spite of his baggage, then he will make the sucky decisions to move toward the goal. This motivator must be clear and impact the goal in some way. If it doesn't, then your reader won't buy his actions.

The motivation needs to be strong enough to make her face danger. She might need a push, maybe something beyond her control, but she needs a motivator to propel her toward this danger in order to achieve her goal.

Do you mean true danger?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. The danger might represent a fear of the character's. The danger might put him somewhere he doesn't like. Even Indiana Jones fears snakes and prefers to steer clear of them. His fear makes him more relatable and makes us pull for him.

When determining if the motivation is enough for her to face her fear, ask: if she doesn't face this obstacle, what happens? It should be a powerful "what if" that compels her to do it anyway.

What about conflict?

A motivation that forces your character into perceived danger in order to achieve their goal creates the conflict.

I challenge you to think about the books you read. What is the character's goal? What emotional baggage do they carry? What motivates them to push through their emotional baggage and face their danger?

If you find a great example of goals, motivation, or baggage, please put it in the comments to this post.

*The very technical terms, sucky and suckier, came from a workshop taught by Debra Dixon of Bell Bridge Books at the SAGA conference in Charlotte, NC. For more information, check out her book: GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.)


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