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  • Writer's pictureS.E. Reed

Understanding Character Motivation

If you and I were put in a room together and told to write a novel about a whale, chances are, our novels would be wildly different. #mobydick

Not just because the probability of us writing the same story is like one in a billion squared, but because you and I are coming from our own distinct places. We have varying backgrounds and alternate life experiences.

"I don't know a helluva lot about whales, so I'm not sure I'd have much to say. While you might be a whale expert. I dunno, just saying."

The point isn't the whale story, the point is #motivation!

More than knowledge on a subject or our idiosyncratic personal experiences, what motivates me to write, is not the same thing that motivates you! Ultimately, that's why our voices will be different.

Just like the characters we write. They should each have a different motivation driving them to behave and act a certain way. They are on a journey. Their character arc will be influenced by their unique motivation as well as the story that is playing out around them.

As the writer, it is up to you to decide what exactly that looks like. What fuels your heroes fire? Is it the almighty dollar? Is it fame and glory? Is it a chance at redemption? Are they intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Will they have an emotional breakthrough halfway through your story? Does that change their motivation?

As you are writing, you may notice common themes your character's motivations.

Quick. Write them down!

Greed Hate Fear Desire



As I look back over my own work, I notice a similar theme motivating many of my character's actions.

Okay, so maybe not the Mojitos... But for sure the LOVE.

I'm not talking romantic love. I'm talking self-love. Even when my characters don't know it and they are struggling with self-esteem, mental health, anger, safety, or financial turmoil. It all seems to point back to an internal desire to love and be loved. I use that internal desire to shape and mold my stories.

Once you can identify what is motivating each of your characters behaviors, you can use it like a formula. Think of it as an equation for keeping your story on the right track. And the next time you're writing a scene and feeling a bit stuck you can go back to the question, "What is their motivation?"


S.E. Reed

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