Waddup Savi Crew!
Last week, I continued my Character series where I used the final four characters—from my own Episode story Manhattan Prep—to demonstrate the strength and weaknesses of the 16 different personality types utilising the 16Personalities profiles. If you missed that blog post, feel free to check it out here.
This week, as promised, I will be discussing character goals and motivations. I think this is what makes characters just like us and is the difference between a good character and a great character.
Now before I dive in to our topic at hand, I usually like to start with a definition. What is a goal? What is a motivation? Are they mutually exclusive? Can they be used interchangeably? Well, let’s see.
The definition of goal, according to Wikipedia:
“A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envisions, plans and commits to achieve.”
By that same token, the definition of motivation, according to Wikipedia:
“Motivation is the reason for people’s actions, willingness and goals. Derived from the word motive, it is a need that requires satisfaction.”
So to answer the question, can they be used interchangeably, the short answer is no. Goal = desired future result. Motivation = reason or need. Clearly they don’t mean the same thing. But the bigger point is that your character needs both of these traits to feel real to a reader. Lemme explain.
If your character does not have a goal, what is the point of the entire story? Readers aren’t going to invest any time into reading a story where the character roams aimlessly on a train that has no destination or end. No Sir! No Ma’am!
Worse yet, if your character has zero motivation then their actions have no purpose. First they do this, then they do that and we aren’t really sure why. Sounds like a snoozefest, doesn’t it? Because if the character has no motivation—i.e. doesn’t care—why should we?
Let me demonstrate with a character that’s not from my Episode story. Rather she hails from my Catholic fiction WIP, The Magnum Empire. Her name is Ilanah and she is the servant to the new leader of the Empire. Ilanah’s goal is to keep herself and her baby brother, Eiran safe. It doesn’t change from the story’s beginning to its end which, by the way, is not a requirement—goals can change.
Ilanah’s motivation is survival. Her people are oppressed, live in abject poverty and all she wants to do is make it out on the other side (and yes, motivations can also change). Since her motivation is to survive, it drives all her actions. She is willing to serve the Empire as she feels it will help shield her family from the incumbent leader’s evil activities.
This works for a while until she ends up betraying them to the Sacred Circle since she feels that power will shift in the circle’s favour. Later on in the story, she betrays the circle when (let’s say, for the sake of not wading into spoiler territory) her situation changes and she needs to protect Eiran. Remember, survival drives her actions and the desired result is keeping her and her brother safe.
Because she had a clear goal and motivation, it wasn’t hard for me to write her character arc. It wasn’t just she did this, then did that; it was more cause-and-effect instead of random. Characters’ goals should be just as important to the character as it is to readers. Two different characters can have the same goal with different—and to make for better reading, opposite—motivations. Because opposite motivations means instant conflict.
Next week, I will be temporarily suspending my Character / Setting / Plot series in order to primarily focus on April Camp NaNoWriMo preparations. Be sure to look out for that blog post especially if you’re thinking about participating / have participated / don’t even know what I’m talking about, etc. After Camp Nano is over I will resume with Goals & Motivations using examples from my Episode story, Manhattan Prep.
Anyways, I’m rambling again which means it’s time to sign off… Toodles for now. And remember, no matter where you live, take a little time to enjoy the island life! Happy Writing!