Writing Characters’ Goals and Motivations

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“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

–Kurt Vonnegut, 8 Basics of Creative Writing

Every character in your story needs to want something. They want to need something. They want and need… to… whatever. This article is about character motivation and goals!

What Does Your Character Want?

As a writer, you need to be able to answer this question about your characters. Everyone in this world wants something and everyone in your world should want something too. If they don’t, odds are your story might have a tinge of dullness. If you have a story where your characters want nothing and you somehow made it interesting, please email it to me (try me, nihilists).

Even if it’s a cup of water—every character should be working toward some goal. This can drive your story’s action and it definitely drives your characters’ action through that story.

Maybe you have a character who is a writer. You need to decide what that character is working toward, whether it be penning the next best-selling novel, proving to her peers that she is a better writer than them, or making enough money to buy a house on the lake. This adds dimensions to our writer character, gives them a driving force that should take them through the story.

But… Why?

Now that you have your character’s eye on the prize, you have to be able to answer this question: “But, why, though?”

People choose goals for a reason. Even if that reason is “just to see if I can,” which I completely understand. But if that is your reason, why is your character like that? What is driving them to reach this goal? Why do they really want that cup of water?

Without a motivation to reach their goal, your character is just going through the world, in and out of situations without purpose. There are some great comedies out there that can maybe pull this off, but if you want a plot-driven, complete story, you’ll need to give your creations some reasoning.

Let’s go back to our writer character. Why does she want to, say, buy a house on the lake? Maybe her motivation is—she likes lakes? Dull. Her favorite author likes lakes? Maybe. Her favorite lake-loving author lives by this particular lake and she wants to be nearer him so she can marry/murder him? Now we’re getting somewhere!

When you find your character’s motivation, it should interest you. After all, if you don’t find it interesting, odds are your readers won’t either.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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