September 5


The Ultimate Guide: What Exactly is Character Motivation and Why It Matters

By Joshua Turner

September 5, 2023

Character motivation is one of the most important elements to make or break a story. It is the driving force behind a character’s actions and decisions and makes the reader care about what happens to them. In simple terms, character motivation is why a character does what they do.

Many factors can influence a character’s motivation, including personality, background, and goals. Understanding a character’s motivation is essential for creating a compelling story that engages readers and keeps them in the protagonist’s journey. Without a clear and believable motivation, a character can be flat and uninteresting, leading to a lack of reader engagement.

Key Takeaways


Characters are the heart of any story. They are the driving force behind the plot and why readers become invested in it. A good character is well-developed, believable, and relatable.

The main character is the one that the story revolves around. They are the ones that the readers root for and want to see succeed. Their motivation is what drives the story forward and keeps the readers engaged.

Antagonists are the characters that oppose the main character. They are the ones that create conflict and obstacles for the main character to overcome. Their motivation is as important as the main character’s, as it helps create a well-rounded story.

Believable characters are those that feel like real people. They have flaws, strengths, and motivations that make sense based on their background and experiences. Readers want to see characters that they can relate to and understand.

Actors are vital in bringing characters to life. They must embody the character’s motivations, emotions, and personalities to make them believable on screen or on stage. A good actor can make even the most complex character come to life.


Motivation is the driving force that compels a character to act a certain way. It is the underlying reason behind a character’s behavior, thoughts, and emotions. Motivation is crucial in storytelling as it helps create believable characters that readers can relate to.

Psychological needs, such as the need for love, acceptance, or power, often drive character motivation. Basic needs, such as physiological needs for food, water, and shelter, can also motivate a character’s actions.

To create believable motivation, it is essential to understand the character’s underlying reason for their behavior. A character’s purpose should be clear and consistent throughout the story, and their motivation should be believable based on their personality, experiences, and circumstances.

Overall, motivation is a key element in creating compelling and believable characters. By understanding the character’s psychological and basic needs and the underlying reason for their actions, writers can create characters that readers can relate to and invest in emotionally.

Story Elements

Story elements are the building blocks of any narrative. They include the plot, backstory, central conflict, stakes, and character motivation. The story is the overarching narrative that ties everything together, while the plot is the sequence of events that move the story forward.


Backstory refers to the events before the story begins, which can help readers understand the characters’ motivations. The central conflict is the main problem the characters must solve, and the stakes are the consequences of failure.

Narrative refers to how the story is told, including exposition, dialogue, and description. A short story is a narrative shorter than a novel but still contains all the essential story elements.

Finally, the character arc is the journey that a character takes throughout the story, driven by their motivations. Understanding character motivation is essential for creating a compelling character arc that resonates with readers.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is the main character who drives the plot forward. Their motivation is tied to their desires, goals, and beliefs. The antagonist is the character who opposes the protagonist and creates conflict. Their motivation often opposes the protagonist’s and their reasons for their actions.

Regarding motivation, the protagonist is usually more fleshed out and explored in detail. Their desires and goals are what the audience roots in, and it is essential to make them relatable and understandable. The protagonist’s motivation should be clear and consistent throughout the story, driving their actions and decisions.

The antagonist’s motivation, on the other hand, can be more complex and nuanced. While they may be working against the protagonist, they should not be one-dimensional villains. A well-written antagonist has their motivations and reasons for their actions, and it is important to explore them to create a compelling and believable character.

One example of a well-written antagonist is Drago from the movie Creed II. While initially portrayed as a one-dimensional villain, his backstory is explored. He is motivated by revenge and to prove himself. It makes his character more complex and interesting, creating a conflict between him and the protagonist.

The protagonist and antagonist are essential storytelling elements, and their motivations drive the plot forward. While the protagonist’s motivation should be clear and consistent, the antagonist’s can be more complex and nuanced, creating a more compelling and believable character. Examples such as Drago from Creed II show the importance of exploring the motivations of both characters to create a more engaging story.

Reader Engagement

One of the most important aspects of character motivation is how it impacts the reader’s engagement with the story. When readers can relate to a character’s motivations, they become invested in the character’s journey and want to see them succeed. This relatability can lead to a deeper emotional connection with the story and a stronger desire to keep reading.

To create relatable characters, it’s important to understand what drives them. Readers can understand and empathize with their choices by providing precise and believable motivations for a character’s actions. It can lead to a more immersive reading experience and a stronger emotional connection to the story.

Using relatable character motivations can also help readers connect with the story’s themes. When characters are driven by universal desires such as love, acceptance, or survival, readers can see themselves in those struggles. It can lead to a deeper understanding of the story’s message and a greater appreciation for the author’s craft.


Creating relatable character motivations is essential for engaging readers and creating a memorable reading experience. Understanding what drives our characters and using that to connect with readers can create stories that resonate long after the final page is turned.

The Role of the Author

As the creator of a book, the author plays a critical role in establishing the character’s motivation. The author must deeply understand the character’s backstory, personality, and goals to create a believable and compelling motivation.

The author must use tone and language to convey the character’s motivation to the reader. The book’s tone can help establish the character’s emotional state and drive to achieve their goals. The author must also use descriptive language to depict the character’s thoughts and actions.

The author’s message and meaning can also impact the character’s motivation. If the author wants to convey a specific theme or lesson, they must ensure that the character’s motivation aligns with that message. The author must also consider the book’s target audience and ensure the character’s motivation resonates with them.

The author has a significant impact on the character’s motivation. They must create a believable and compelling motivation that aligns with the book’s tone, meaning, and message through their writing.


Character motivation can vary greatly depending on the story and the characters involved. Here are a few examples of character motivation in different contexts:

  • In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen’s motivation is to protect her sister and survive the games. It drives her actions throughout the story and influences her decisions.
  • In “Breaking Bad,” Walter White’s motivation is to provide for his family after being diagnosed with cancer. It leads him to start cooking and selling meth, which sets off a chain of events that ultimately changes him.
  • In “Harry Potter,” Harry’s motivation is to defeat Voldemort and protect the wizarding world. It drives him to learn magic, make friends, and ultimately face his greatest enemy.
  • In “The Lord of the Rings,” Frodo’s motivation is to destroy the ring and save Middle-earth. It leads him on a perilous journey with his friends and ultimately requires him to make a difficult sacrifice.

These examples show how a character’s motivation can influence their actions and shape the story. Understanding a character’s motivation, we can better understand their choices and actions throughout the narrative.


Character motivation is the driving force behind a character’s actions and decisions. It is what makes a character believable and relatable to the audience. Various factors, such as past experiences, desires, and beliefs can influence a character’s motivation.

To create a well-developed character, it is important to understand their motivation and how it affects their behavior throughout the story. This can be achieved by asking questions such as “What does the character want?” and “Why do they want it?”

Understanding a character’s motivation can create more compelling and dynamic stories that resonate with their audience. Remembering that character motivation should be consistent and make sense within the story’s context is crucial.

Overall, character motivation is an essential element of storytelling that can make or break a character’s believability and the overall success.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you infer a character’s motivation? Select three options.

  1. Analyze the character’s actions and decisions.
  2. Consider the character’s background and past experiences.
  3. Pay attention to the character’s dialogue and inner thoughts.

What are some examples of character motivation in literature?

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch’s motivation is to defend Tom Robinson and uphold justice, while Bob Ewell’s motivation is to maintain his reputation and protect his family’s social status. In “The Great Gatsby,” Jay Gatsby’s motivation is to win back his lost love, Daisy Buchanan, while Tom Buchanan’s motivation is to maintain his power and control over those around him.

What is the main character’s motivation in the story?

The main character’s motivation is the driving force behind their actions and decisions throughout the story. It can be a desire for love, power, revenge, or self-discovery, among other things.

What are some examples of character motivation in movies?

In “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone’s motivation is to protect his family and take revenge on those who have wronged them. In “Star Wars,” Luke Skywalker’s motivation is to become a Jedi and defeat the evil Empire. In “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne’s motivation is to escape from prison and clear his name.

How do you identify character motivation?

Look for patterns in the character’s behavior and decisions. Consider their past experiences and how they have shaped their current motivations. Pay attention to their interactions with other characters and what they say about their desires and goals.

What is the definition of a character’s internal motivation?

A character’s internal motivation is the driving force behind their actions and decisions that comes from within themselves. It can be a desire for personal growth, self-discovery, or overcoming internal obstacles like fear or doubt.

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