Motivation is such an important element to fiction writing. Without it, there would be no story to tell. That’s how vital it is.
Everything we do in life has a reason behind it, even the mundane things. This is basic human nature. And sometimes, if we don’t do something, there may well be consequences.
The thing about motivation is that is it controlled by behaviour – so psychology plays an important part. Characters, like real people, behave according to the things that go on around them and to them.
Writing is all about the need to know why. Why do people do what they do? What makes them react in a certain way? What lies beneath? It’s basic psychology; the need to not just know, but to understand the root of human behaviour.
Every one of us has a backstory. So do your characters. Our backstories tell people who we are, where we’re from, who our parents are, what we do in life, our hopes and dreams and fears, and who we share that life with. We all have a childhood; we all have good and bad experiences – our childhood and environment shapes us as adults. That means sometimes we take on the traits of our mothers and fathers – good, bad or indifferent – which forms the way we behave. That’s why we all react differently to different things. All these ‘things’ form the basis of motivation.
Character backstories form the main staple of the story. What drives them? Well, all the ‘things’ that have happened to the characters, and often it is usually one event, one incident, one moment or feeling that drives them.
The common denominator with motivation is emotion. Emotion is closely related to motivation, from the word mouvre. Emotions fuel us, they affect our behaviour and they can often overwhelm us. Emotions provide a huge amount of motivation where your characters are concerned.
The most common emotional catalysts found in fiction - which are all interconnected – are as follows:
Bitterness is an all too common trait. There are all sorts of reasons why we resent, and it drives us to sometimes act impulsively or stupidly. Some people can take control of it deal with it, while others are consumed by it and cannot forgive or forget – it really is a driving force. They hang onto that negative emotion, and it’s the negative side of that emotion that drives their behaviour.
Characters that resent someone or something - such as a situation- may be bitter and stark until the reason for such hatred is resolved, so their ultimate goal would be to find a way of dealing with the person or the situation or by forgiving the person they believe is the cause of such bitterness.
Most stories have this as the main theme, and it’s not surprising because humans harbour the primitive need to seek justice for all manner of things, by whatever means. Characters that are out for revenge will do things that are often out of character, such is the strength of this emotion. And of course, with revenge comes consequences.
Another driving force, hatred is an all-consuming emotion that turns normally likeable nice people into raging animals. It overrides our sense of morality and logic, so characters driven my hatred will be deeply flawed and less likable, but engaging nonetheless because there will always be a reason behind why they are behave the way they do.
The negative emotion is what motivates them, and will continue to do so until the emotion is quashed, usually by taking revenge.
In much the same way that hatred can consume us, love does, too. The things we do for love are not always logical, but can be endearing. We’d go to the ends of the Earth for our loved ones, and your characters will be no different. Love is a powerful emotion – especially if the love is unrequited, and so it provides plenty of motivation for characters.
Fear is not necessarily the jump-scare kind, but rather the inner fears we all have. The emotion of fear is also a driving force and motivates characters - fear of loss of a loved one, fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted, or fear of losing something invaluable. These are all valid fears that cause all sorts of different behaviours. It can motivate characters in the most unusual ways.
There is no stronger emotion than this. The survival instinct is something we all have, and when our backs are against the wall, we fight tooth and nail to get out of danger. This is more than enough motivation for your characters.
Other motivation facilitators are created by events and incidents in the past. Our childhood is a huge sponge full of stuff that shapes who we become as adults, and often these develop our behaviours, in the belief we’re doing the right thing, in order to justify our actions, be them right or wrong.
In part 2 we’ll look at other catalysts that lead to character motivations and the behavioural markers that lead to actions and reactions common place within novels.
Next week: The Importance of Motivation – What drives your characters? Part 2