Character Motivation: Mastering Compelling and Believable Characters

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Character Motivation: Mastering Compelling and Believable Characters

Character motivation is a key element in storytelling that can make or break a story. It’s what drives the characters to act and move forward, which is why it’s so important to understand how to create compelling and believable characters with powerful motivations.

Mastering this skill will take your stories from good to great! 

In this article, we’ll explore what character motivation is, as well as how you can use it to craft more interesting stories for your audience–one who has an instinctive desire for innovation.

Let’s get started!

What Is Character Motivation

One of the most essential aspects when crafting a story is understanding character motivation. It’s necessary for creating compelling, believable characters that readers can relate to and want to follow on their journey.

But what exactly is character motivation?

Put simply, it’s the driving force behind why a character does anything in a story. What motivates them to take certain actions? Is it based on fear or love? Do they feel an obligation to do something out of duty or loyalty? All these questions are vital when considering how to create a three-dimensional being with objectives within your narrative.

When constructing believable characters, we must consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – physiological, safety, belonging/love, esteem, and self-actualization. This theory states that all humans have basic needs which need to be met before they can reach their full potential; therefore this should also apply to fictional people too!

Without understanding our protagonist’s motivations, we can never truly understand their goals and desires – making them one-dimensional and not as interesting as someone who has depth and complexity.

Types Of Character Motivation

We all know that character motivation is key to creating compelling stories, but what exactly is it? Character motivation is a character’s drive or need to do something. It can be intrinsic or extrinsic, positive or negative.

Intrinsic motivation is a character’s inner desire to do something; it’s like the character’s internal “why.” Extrinsic motivation is the character’s motivation for external rewards.

Positive motivation is when a character has a goal that’s good for them; negative motivation is when a character has a goal that’s bad for them.

Mastering these different types of motivation can help you create believable and engaging characters for your story.

3 types of character motivation
Types Of Character Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation

The desire to be motivated by something comes in many forms, but when it comes to intrinsic motivation, nothing quite compares.

Intrinsic motivation is a type of self-fulfillment that stems from an individual’s internal drive and desires. It’s all about satisfying our own needs rather than external rewards or pressures.

According to Maslow’s model of hierarchy of needs, the most basic drives such as food, safety and security come first, followed by psychological and social motivators like love and belonging. Beyond that are higher order motivations such as esteem and self-actualization which can only be achieved through intrinsic motivation.

We all need some degree of extrinsic motivation—money, recognition, etc.—but true growth often comes through unlocking our inner resources for personal satisfaction and development.

So if you’re looking to create compelling characters with believable motivations, don’t forget to tap into their deeper desires and look beyond just the basics!

Extrinsic Motivation

It’s easy to think of motivation as something we do for ourselves, but sometimes our own desires aren’t enough.

Extrinsic motivation is about being motivated by external factors such as money or recognition, greed can be an extrinsic motivator in some cases—a desire for wealth, power or fame could drive the character to take certain actions and make decisions simply because they bring those external rewards closer.

But despite its potential pitfalls, there’s still a place for extrinsic motivation even when working towards self-actualization. After all, these external forces can serve as useful tools to help us reach our innermost goals and find true fulfillment.

Positive/Negative Motivation

Motivation is the force behind all of our actions, no matter the character. It can be a mix of external motivations and intrinsic needs that drive us to do what we do.

Positive motivation encourages characters to take certain paths or make decisions with believable outcomes; negative motivation on the other hand forces them down paths they may not normally go and can lead to more unpredictable results.

In order for our characters to remain likable and true to life, it’s important that their motives are clear and understandable. 

The best way to incorporate both positive and negative motivation into your story is by giving your character wants that come from within—intrinsic needs—and then layering those desires with external motivations like money, power, or fame.

This gives readers an understanding of why the character takes certain actions while still allowing room for surprise and unexpected plot twists along the way.

No matter what type of motivation a character has, it should always feel natural and believable in order for readers to stay engaged throughout the story. When used correctly, these opposing types of motivators will add depth and complexity to any narrative as well as keep readers guessing about where things might lead next!

Importance Of Character Motivation

Character motivation is a fundamental concept in storytelling that can make or break your story. It’s the reason why characters do what they do, and its importance cannot be overstated.

Character motivation takes two forms: internal and external. Internal motivations are driven by emotions like love, anger, hatred, greed, etc., whereas external motivations involve outside forces such as family obligations, peer pressure, or societal expectations.

Importance Of Character Motivation
A motivated character doing boxing

Motivation is the reason behind believable characters – it helps to understand them better and makes them more relatable for readers. It’s important to remember that character motivation isn’t just about making sure your protagonist has an understandable goal; it should also describe how he/she plans on achieving this goal too.

A motivating force doesn’t have to be complicated either – even simple things like wanting something out of necessity or fear of failure can help create a compelling storyline with well-rounded characters. Knowing how to develop strong character motivation will ensure you write stories people want to read!

Through careful consideration of a character’s goals, desires, and fears—both internally and externally motivated—you can craft intriguing plotlines that draw in readers and keep them hooked until the very end. By keeping these aspects in mind while writing your story, you can create captivating scenes filled with believable characters who drive the narrative forward with their own unique personalities and motives.

How To Develop Character Motivation

Character motivation is an essential element for any story to be compelling and believable. In fact, readers are more likely to finish a book if the character’s motivations are clear and relatable. This means it’s incredibly important for authors to understand how to properly motivate their characters in order to draw readers into their stories.

Developing your character’s motivation can seem daunting at first. However, there are some key steps you should take when writing a well-rounded character arc with strong motivators.

First, identify what your character wants or needs – this could range from love, approval, revenge, power, etc – as these will ultimately serve as the primary motivator behind all of their decisions throughout the story.

Second, create backstories and past experiences that have shaped them into who they are now; external factors such as family dynamics and environment play an integral role in forming beliefs about themselves which will lead them down certain paths in pursuit of said goals and desires.

Lastly, consider conflicts that may arise due to external pressures or internal doubts – these moments of challenge will push the character towards growth and self-reflection during difficult situations.

In other words, developing strong character motivation involves understanding both what drives them internally (goals/desires) and externally (experiences/conflicts). Crafting thoughtful backstories that demonstrate why characters act or behave a certain way allows readers to connect on an emotional level which further enhances engagement with the story overall.

Examples Of Strong Character Motivation

There are many examples of complex character motivation in many best-selling books that we all know, such as:

  • Harry Potter’s motivation is to defeat Voldemort and restore peace to the wizarding world
  • Andy Dufresne’s is to survive and escape Shawshank prison
  • Katniss Everdeen’s is to protect her family and fight against the oppressive Capitol

These are all examples of strong character motivations, and mastering them is key to creating compelling and believable characters in a story.

Motivations Of Harry Potter

Harry Potter is the quintessential protagonist. He has a strong sense of survival and a deep desire to do what’s right–to stand up for those in need, no matter the cost or consequence.

His story conveys a clear hierarchy of morality that fuels his motivations throughout each book and movie series. With every challenge he faces, Harry shows us how to be brave, resourceful and loyal even when faced with extraordinary odds.

example of character motivation
Motivations Of Harry Potter

He leads by example, inspiring others to join him in his cause as they strive to overcome their own obstacles while working together toward one common goal: defeating evil and restoring balance.

We can all learn something from Harry’s courage and unwavering commitment; it is an undeniable reminder of our power when we work together towards a greater good.

Motivations Of Andy Dufresne

Andy Dufresne, the protagonist of Stephen King’s ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, is a character whose motivations we can all relate to.

He has an innate need to achieve his goals and take control of his life in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

His resilience compels us as readers or viewers to root for him and cheer on his success, no matter how much adversity he encounters along the way.

Andy’s strong character drives him forward towards justice without ever giving up hope; it’s something that resonates with people from all walks of life who also have a deep-rooted need to know they have the power within themselves to make things right.

Even when faced with seemingly impossible odds, this unbreakable commitment propels Andy onward until he reaches his desired conclusion: freedom.

How Does Character Motivation Interact With Plot?

Character motivation is a crucial part of storytelling, as it’s what drives the plot forward and makes characters seem three-dimensional.

In order to create compelling and believable characters, we need to understand their motivations for making certain decisions and taking certain actions within the story.

It’s essential that authors take time to carefully consider their character’s motivations when crafting plot points; otherwise, readers will have difficulty connecting with the protagonist or antagonist in meaningful ways.

Understanding how character motivation interacts with the plot can help writers craft stories that are both engaging and powerful.


Character motivation is an essential element in crafting compelling and believable stories. It’s the underlying driving force that shapes characters, their arcs, and how they interact with other elements of your story.

A captivating protagonist or antagonist can make all the difference in creating a great narrative arc. 

In fact, when authors focus on character-driven stories rather than plot-driven ones, readers are more likely to finish the book!

As writers, we must keep our characters’ motivations at the forefront of every scene – whether it’s for better or worse. When I write my own stories, I strive to create characters that feel real by giving them complex motives that drive their decisions throughout the entire journey.

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.