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I’m of the impression that motivation is like an onion. Onions have layers, motivation has layers. So let’s analyze the layers of the motivation onion.

Layer 1: Root Cause: Here we’re looking at the main motivation, the root cause of all the character’s choices. What happened in their life that will drive them for the rest of their life?

For example: they might have never had control over their body or they were bullied as a child or were scorned for making a mistake. It could be anything, small or big. Everyone has a different “inciting incident” for our motivation.

Layer 2: Base Motivation: This is the motivation that moves the character through their life that is caused by the “root cause.” It’s the one that comes before the story starts and is the basis for the “story motivation” (layer 5).

If they didn’t have control over their body (ie: couldn’t choose what to wear) their motivation would be rebellion or freedom. If they were bullied in school they could want revenge or restitution. If they were scorned for making a mistake, their motivation might be fear of failure.

Failure (fear of)
Meaning of life (search of)
Loneliness (fear of)
Love (fear of/search of)
Madness (fear of/avoidance of)
Pain (fear of/avoidance of/inflicting of)
Past trauma (fear of/avoidance of)
Peer pressure (fear of/avoidance of/inflicting of)
Poverty (fear of/avoidance of)
Power (fear of/search of)
Protection (search for)
Quiet life (search of)
Restitution (fear of/avoidance of/inflicting of)
Revenge (fear of/avoidance of/inflicting of)
Torment (fear of/avoidance of/inflicting of)

Layer 3: Action: What are the actions that the character does to fulfill their motivation?

They might wear clothing their family hates out of spite. They might be like Snape who takes his anger against his bully out on Harry Potter. They might have a crippling fear of making a mistake so they might have anxiety and overthink everything.

Layer 4: Object: They might have a specific item/object/goal/job in their sights that might help them achieve their motivation. If they’re a villain in search of power, their object could be the crown of the kingdom, or knowledge of all the dark spells in existence, or the biggest army of the world.

Layer 5: Story Motivation: This is the motivation specific to the story you are writing. What motivates the character to behave the way they do in this story specifically? What do they want?

If the story is about retribution for a character whose Base Motivation is retribution then it can just be a replication of the Base. They can be the same.

If their Base Motivation is power and the story is about their ability to love, their story motivation could be love. The two motivations could clash and fight one another causing an interesting character arc. Think about the actions that the MC would have to make to achieve their desire for power but at the same time their desire for love, how things could crumble on both ends having to give up something of the first motivation for the other to come true.

Find the Main Character Workbook HERE!


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