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Ten Ways to Motivate Your Characters

Disunity obstacles motivate characters to offer resistance to, or agree to assist with, another character’s scene goal or overall story goal. 
Story Building Blocks

Motivating your primary characters is essential to a well-developed plot. Motivating your secondary characters, the friends and foes, adds depth.

1. Competition. Wishing to one-up, surpass, or defeat someone can be mild or taken to laughable, even deadly, lengths. The competition between characters can be out in the open. They know they are competing for the woman, the antiquity, the position, or the country. It can be an undercurrent that flows between two characters who aren't even aware this is their motivation.

2. Jealousy and resentment. How long has that pot been boiling? What causes it to overflow?

3. Gossip, rumors, and backbiting. I am struck by how often characters exist in a bubble. They are part of the wider world. What they do and say will be observed, discussed, and perhaps acted upon.

4. Blackmail. Secrets are the lifeblood of good suspense. They do not have to be conspiracies or fatal. They only require that the character feels shame about something they don't want other people to know. Giving another character the power to expose them adds tension.

5. Differing goals and needs. This conflict can be mild or ruin a relationship, a heist team, or derail a war.

6. Dislike, hatred, or anger. Few character types are overt in their expression of these emotions. A subtle level can lead a friend or foe to fail to cooperate, break a promise, or cause them to undermine every goal your character has.

7. Love for something or someone. Love unites. However, love can prevent a character from taking an action that will hurt someone they care about. The threat can be deadly, but they will not risk it. Love can also motivate someone to go beyond normal limits and take uncharacteristic risks. It can provide the push to keep them moving toward their goal or add the resistance to doing what needs to be done.

8. Friendship and loyalty. Few characters are completely friendless or free of bonds of loyalty. Who are your characters beholden to? Who will they betray? What is the price of that betrayal? Who will they catch a grenade for?

9. Opposing methods of negotiating the world. Some are mavericks. Some are conservatives. Some are willing to do whatever they want regardless of the cost. For others, the cost is too dear. Putting opposites together heightens the tension. Every decision and action will create conflict.

10. Shallowness versus depth of connections. How easy is it for your character to walk away? What is the cost? Deepening their connections heightens the stakes.

Motivation drives each character in your story. They may know what motivates them. They may be completely unaware. The other characters may be aware or completely unaware of why characters behave as they do.

Tweet this: Motivation transforms your cardboard characters into flesh and bone.

For more about how to craft characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, available in paperback and E-book and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook, available in paperback and E-book.

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