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Article - 'Motivation' by Xanqui

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Nov 15, 2004

Blurb

A guide to the first steps of creating motivation for your characters! Note: This isn't to get you motivated to work on your game...unless your characters suck or something.

Body

If you're reading this article to get motivated to do something, stop reading now. This is motivation for the characters, not you. It's more than just avoiding laziness. It could be a reason to be lazy. It could be a reason to just to drink a glass of water. Motivation has many factors, but it's important to be consistent with the characters.

Let's begin by starting with a common, generic hero. This is a relatively small guy, and he hasn't done much in life. In reality, this sort of character doesn't just go out on an adventure. If his parents are killed, then he may not even want revenge because if he hasn't done much in life, then he wasn't that close to his parents and they never motivated him to do anything in the first place, so why avenge them?

This is where character development comes into play. Let's call this guy Joe. No, Steve would be better. Yeah, let's call him Steve. Steve's parents were just killed, and he knows who did it. But that night, he had plans to go see a movie with his girlfriend that he's worried will break up with him soon. What is he going to do? He's going to go to the movies and use the death of his parents as sympathy. But before that, he'll probably call the police. However, it turns out that Steve's father was a mob leader. So let's skip the police there and hide the body.

Lazy Steve goes to the movies, but finds out that his girlfriend was killed by the same people. Well, she was just about to break up with him, but let's say he was pretty clingy. Now he's downright depressed and sad. He has lost everyone he loved. Is he going to avenge them? No. He's still lazy.

Finally, he gets home to feed his goldfish, but, what a surprise, his goldfish died. Steve has been pushed over the edge now, and he can do one of two things with his pent-up anger: He could break down in tears or kill himself, or he could grab his father's gun and head off to the enemy territory and kick ass.

But the latter there isn't very realistic unless one thing happened before everything else: his father constantly pushed him to do better in life. He would have been closer to his father then, and he would be more motivated to do things without being told to do them. If he loved his father, then he would avenge him.

There are two forms of motivation, and I'll explain the previous story first:

Internal Motivation
Let's say that Steve does go off on a killing spree. He did it because he motivated himself to do it. This is brought about by emotion or bravery. Self motivation is usually found in more entrepreneurial people who go off and start their own businesses.

External Motivation
Let's say everyone but Steve's father was killed, but his father was lying on his death bed, and just before dying, he loudly yells to his son, "AVENGE ME!!!" with a very forceful yell. Steve immediately grabs his gun and heads off to battle. This would be motivation from the father, not just Steve. This is found more in people who end up working in the exact same place their parents work, but that would be the extreme version of this.

But maybe your story isn't about Steve. Maybe your story is about another average person who has a little more self motivation. By the time we meet this character, he's probably moved away from his parents and has established himself in a new community, or the same one. It doesn't matter. We usually see characters around this age in stories and games because older people can relate to them better and younger people will soon be at that stage.

Twenty year-olds are very motivated, especially right after they're finished with schooling. So when the opportunity to save the world comes around, or to join some powerful rebel organization, they'll be more than willing to take it. This is their chance to make a difference to the world, just as they've always been planning.

So what? You think. My character is around that age, so according to you, I'm already doing everything you're telling me to do. Not quite. Yes, you can begin your story around the time he has the chance to go off on his adventure, but it's later in the story when you might want to reveal a bit about the character's past.

Parenting is the most important part of motivation. In flashbacks or conversations, you might want the character to reveal a bit about his parents.

Were they very strict, never allowing the character to go off and do his own thing, so now this is his chance to prove to his parents, even though they're long gone, that he is capable of making it on his own? In this case, everything is done for his parents. Though they may be dead, but they still exist within the character's mind.

Or were they very loving, yet never got on his back about doing chores or whatever, but they pushed him to do his best, and wouldn't mind much if he failed often? In this case, the character went on this adventure for himself, not his parents. He had something to prove just to himself.

Revenge is a common tool that story tellers use to get a character to do something. From the death of a loved one to the destruction of his home town, revenge can be seen in many stories. It's not a bad tool, but it might not be the one for you.

Curiosity is less used, but think of the Matrix. Neo went on the adventure because he wanted to know the truth about the universe. This is the quest for knowledge. However, your character should be a little more intellectual because a stupid person won't necessarily care about the meaning of life, or whether fate really exists. And before you say it, yes, Keanu Reeves isn't exactly intelligent.

Sex is possibly the strongest motivator. If there's a beautiful girl asking the hero to come along, he'll probably go with her.

Power is also a strong motivator. But this is generally used for villains, unfortunately. Not all good guys have to be pure good. They may want to save the world because it'll get them lots of power. It's a shame that power is generally used as a sign of evil in stories.

Money A ten million dollar prize? The character is poor? The character has a family to support? Yeah, I think he'd risk his life for it.

Force isn't necessarily a strong motivator, but it's just what it is: force. If the character is a slave or something, and is forced to go on the adventure, then he doesn't have much of a choice. This is hardly motivation.

Escape from Pain is a good motivator for someone who isn't a masochist. There's no point in explaining this, since it only applies to a limited amount of stories.

Whatever your character's motivation may be, make it clear to the audience before you go and develop him. You don't need to reveal it right as the story starts, but as long as it is before he is developed, then you've probably decided a good point.