5 Places to Look for your Character’s Motivation

5 Places to Look for Your Character’s Motivation | 5 tips for writers on developing characters with strong motivations. A must read for writers who have trouble finding their characters’ motivations.

What is motivation and why is it important?

Motivation is the reason your characters do the things they do. Characters need to have a solid motivation for all the decisions they make throughout the story, but when developing your main characters, the most important motivation you need to give them is the motivation to participate in the story in the first place. Motivation is the reason the stakes matter.

Harry’s goal is to destroy Voldemort.
Voldemort will take over the wizarding world otherwise – this is what’s at stake.
But why does Harry want to stop Voldemort himself? Why not step back and let someone else do it? Because Voldemort killed Harry’s parents. That’s Harry’s motivation.

Motivation is the emotional investment in the story for both the character and the reader. It gives the characters depth, which makes them more engaging. The reader wouldn’t be very interested if, at any point, the protagonist could decide that the stakes aren’t such a big deal after all and go home. Motivation locks the character into the story.
Motivation Locks the Character into the Story. 5 Places to Look for Your Character's Motivation.

It’s just as important to give your antagonists motivation. An evil overlord who is evil just because is not a very interesting character. They’re not as threatening as a character who believes completely in what they’re doing because if they don’t believe completely in what they’re doing – if they’re evil for the sake of being evil – they could stop being evil at any time. Identical to the protagonist’s situation, your antagonist’s motivation locks them into the story and makes them much more engaging. The more developed the antagonist is, the bigger the threat he poses to the protagonist.

5 places to look for your character’s motivation

1. Beliefs

What does your character want to prove or disprove? How did they discover this belief and how do they reinforce it? Knowing what your character strongly believes will help you help them make certain decisions. Does a particular course of action support their beliefs? Does a particular course of action contradict their beliefs?

Anakin Skywalker believes the Jedi Council has lost its way after they refuse to grant him the rank of Master and then ask him to spy on Chancellor Palpatine. This is fuelled by the words of Palpatine and the actions of the Jedi, and Anakin ultimately decides to act against the Jedi.

2. Fears

What is your character’s biggest fear? How did they discover this fear? How far would they go to stop this fear from actualising? Will a particular course of action keep this fear from actualising? Will a particular course of action bring the character closer to facing their fear?

Because his visions have come true before, Anakin Skywalker fears his visions of his wife’s death in childbirth will come true. He is willing to use the dark side of the Force to keep this from happening.

3. Relationships

What kind of relationships does your character have with different people? Are they missing out on any important relationships? How do these influence their actions? Is there anyone they would do anything for? Are they looking for revenge on someone?

Anakin Skywalker’s relationship with Palpatine, who has been like a mentor to him for a long time, allowed Palpatine to manipulate him, driving him away from the Jedi and toward the dark side.

4. Desires

What does your character want more than anything? When did they realise they wanted this and how do they think it will change their life? How far are they willing to go to get what they want? Would they chose to obtain their want at the expense of something they need?

Anakin Skywalker desires more power. He knows wanting this is wrong, but after his mind is twisted by the dark side, he gives in to this desire.

5. Backstory

What has happened in your character’s history that might influence the way they act and the decisions they make in the story? Were they raised a certain way? Have they suffered any traumas?

Anakin Skywalker has never exactly had the temperament of a Jedi. He has much anger and fear which has, in the past, led him to make decisions that are not the Jedi way. Additionally, he is exceptionally skilled from a young age, which develops into arrogance, and then into entitlement, which fuels his anger and makes him susceptible to the dark side.


Motivation is one of the keys to creating well developed characters. Go forth and find out why your characters do what they do.

5 Places to Look for Your Character’s Motivation | 5 tips for writers on developing characters with strong motivations. Head over to jackalediting.com for the full article, and more great writing tips from a freelance book editor!


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