Storytelling Part 1: Motivation

no_motivationCindy struggled in the chair she was bound to with ropes. She yelled out at her captor, “Why do you hate me so much? Why do you want me dead?”

Her captor, a tall, leggy woman in spandex tauntingly caulked her gun and said with a smile, “Because you destroyed my one chance of being the greatest runner in the world. Because you stole my gold medal. And now, you will pay.”

Really? Never mind whether this is good storytelling or not… is it at all realistic? Would someone really murder their sports competitor? Doubtful. Would you be driven to threaten someone who bested you at an event? I truly hope not.

When it comes to writing and developing characters, you need always to keep one word in mind: motivation.

Motivation is helpful in two fronts. Motivation:

a) defines characters, and

b) pushes the story along

Think about it. In order for the beautiful harmonizing of a solid story and lovable characters to occur, several things must happen, but the main thing is motivation.

Think Lord of the Rings. Not only is the story itself driven by the motivation to destroy the ring, but the characters are defined so clearly because of that motivation.

Think Finding Nemo. The title itself is the motivation behind the story and the characters. 

Motivation is nearly everything in a story. Why am I writing this? Why is the bad guy bad? Why did my protagonist just do that?


But the catch is, the motivation must be believable. Now, this is where it gets a little subjective. Certain members of my household like the show Once Upon a Time. I don’t. (Though I do recommend it as clean and safe family viewing.) And the sole reason is because the motivations behind the characters is, to me, completely unbelievable.

The Queen wants to curse the whole fairy tale world because Snow White got her prince? That’s like saying the girl whom you detested in high school got married before you, therefore you’re going to go on a shooting rampage at the mall.

Folks, writers – don’t make your characters bad just to be bad. Don’t dwell on it, but give your readers a reason why they’re bad. The Toy Story franchise does this best with their antagonists (need I say more than Lotso/Daisy?).

Likewise, give your readers a reason to believe that your protagonists really are good, and ask yourself the question: Why is my protagonist good?

Another trick: To help keep your story on track, ask yourself at the end of each scene, Why? Why did this scene just happen? Why did my character just say/do that? You ought to be able to answer confidently with the ending in mind so that you’re always heading in that direction.

When I wrote The Man in the Box, I was always prepared to answer someone who might ask me, “Why did you write this book?”

You should be too.

Let me be your writing coach or editor. Click here for more information.

[Image Credit]


About Andrew Toy
I'm in the beginning stages of starting my own publishing company that's unlike anything you've ever heard of in the industry. The direction of AdoptingJames is taking a 90-degree turn and will be more writing/publishing-focused. Stay tuned for huge updates and exciting news!

6 Responses to Storytelling Part 1: Motivation

  1. bgddyjim says:

    Also important is a caulk gun – they do not make good weapons (she caulked her gun). You have to watch your guns brother – we gun-nuts will pick that apart in a minute. While a gun may technically be “cocked”, we don’t talk that way. She would have “racked the slide” (which means in technical terms that she cocked it). “Cocking” refers to the old revolvers, and you don’t cock the gun, you cock the hammer. There are quite a few semi-auto pistols that still do have cockable hammers (all 1911’s, Beretta’s etc.) but unless you’re Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, that’s not how it’s done. Now, in your case above, to keep the suspense going properly: She glared at the bound woman and slowly drew the hammer back (until it locked with a faint “click”). Now she’s ready to shoot the faster woman, not caulk her butt to the chair. Technically, there’s even more to it than what I’ve laid out, but to drone on would be unnecessary.

    I’m seriously hoping you’re chuckling about this comment, because I’m just funnin’ ya. 😉 I do love your work and wish I had your gift.

  2. ByronGordon says:

    I agree the motivation needs to be believable, after that we part paths. I think the example you provided contains the potential for adequate motivation. Imagine your leggy spandexed character with the caulk gun has spent her entire life to win the Olympic Gold medal. She has sacrificed everything to make it, her marriage, her mother’s deathbed, etc etc. She is now at the end of her run (pun intended) and has one last chance to compete for the Gold… and the tied up woman accidentally hits her with her car and breaks her leg. I would find that adequate motivation…
    Now if I could only do that for my own characters who are lacking motivation *sigh*

    Oh, and with Once Upon A Time, I’m guessing you jumped out of it early. The Evil Queen gets genuine motivation 🙂

  3. Dr Iffi says:

    well…… I would be motivated to get rid of a few people from my life ………. lolz

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