Monday 1 April 2019

Character Motivation

By Alyssa J. Montgomery

Debra Dixon's much cited writing bible, 'Goal, Motivation & Conflict' explains that the motivation is what compels the character to achieve his or her goal. (If you're a writer and don't have this book, I can tell you it's one of the most helpful how-to books I own.) On motivation, Dixon writes "Keep it simple. Keep it strong. Keep it focused." Motivation is also referred to as the Why of the story and can be a key element in helping the character be three dimensional and also have the reader empathise with him or her. For a reader to become engrossed in the plot, the motivation must be clear and should be compelling.

There are many different goals a character can have, and even those who share the same goal may have different motivations for doing so. If you're looking for different character motivations, check out the sites:


Newton said that an object will tend to remain at rest unless it's acted upon by an outside force. Perhaps it's an internal motivator or perhaps it's an external force, but there has to be something that motivates a character into action and to direct the choices that character makes.

Coming from a large and very loving family, I know that through my close bond with my parents and siblings, any one of us would be prepared to go to whatever extraordinary lengths possible to in order to help each other. I've used family motivations in a number of my books. In my medieval 'Knight of Her Heart' (published as Alyssa James) I have a heroine who's trying to save her sister's life and in 'Knight of Her Desire', a mother who's trying to protect her child. My hero in the former is motivated by revenge and in the latter, the hero is motivated by a sense of duty and conscience.

I tend to like motivations which involve family because I find them compelling and easy to relate to. Whether the character is motivated to do something to help a relative survive, get out of debt, achieve a career goal - I'm happier to read these types of motivating factors than a motivation centered around attaining a career goal or wealth or something material. That's not to say those stories aren't appealing to me - just that the family motivations appeal more.

In my latest contemporary release, 'Seduced by the Enemy' the heroine is motivated to become a part of her niece's life and to try to save her life. In each of these stories, the motivation was urgent and ensured the characters would meet the roadblocks and challenges I set for them to make it difficult for them to achieve their goals.

Obtaining Justice is my hero's motivation in 'The Irredeemable Prince' and it's such a strong motivation he doesn't mind attracting the scorn of a nation to do it.

Honouring a sense of duty and feeling a sense of guilt are motivating factors for both the hero and heroine in my novel, 'The Defiant Princess'. Their motivation drives them to their goal, despite their beliefs that this goal stands in the way of their own personal happiness. Now, while in this story the characters have the same goal and motivation, the conflict arises because they both want to achieve the goal in a different way.

Whatever the character's motivation is, it needs to be set in a way that the reader can relate to it - feeling the same sense of urgency and investment, struggling with the choices that need to be made but understanding and relating to those decisions.

How do I decide what my characters' motivations are? Like most authors I do an author interview that helps me to know each character's backstory. Who are they? What makes them tick? What's happened to them to make them the way they are? What do they most want? Why do they want it?
What's stopping them from getting it? How are they going to overcome the roadblock?

I'd love to hear from you.
Of the romances you enjoy reading, do you have a favourite motivational theme?
Have you ever read a romance where you have come across a really unusual motivation for the character - or one you simply can't relate to? 
If you're an author, do you gravitate more frequently to one type of character motivation than another?

Love to Love: Characters motivated to help others whether it's their friends or families.
Love to Laugh: At comical situations created by authors as the characters try to attain their goals.
Love to Learn: About what makes characters tick. Why do they want what they want?


  1. GMC is hard to get right but when you do, it really shows in the story doesn't it? In A Scandalous Wager the heroine was motivated by justice - to prove her innocence. This drives the whole story through to it's conclusion. My current WIP is family orientated too as she is motivated to save her mother.

    1. It was such a strong motivator Cassandra. There was so much riding on her clearing her name and it was fabulous. High stakes motivation definitely makes for an interesting story.

  2. Hi Alyssa, this GMC is magic for writers, isn't it? Really hones and tightens your writing. I think it's great when a character has a pure motivation out of love for someone: a relative, friend, or even to better themselves. If you fall in love with the character you really do want to see them succeed, cheering for them all through the book. Obviously the occasional hiccup provides excellent writer fodder! And reader interest! I'm looking forward to reading your Medieval romances, I haven't begun yet. A pleasure in store. Thanks!

    1. Hi Miranda,
      So true. Love the character and we are invested in them achieving their goal.
      Hope you enjoy the medieval romances!

  3. Hi Alyssa, thanks for the interesting post. When it comes to character motivation in the books I read, as long as it's believable and worthwhile, I'm happy. As an author I tend to use altruistic motivations. In The Farmer's Perfect Match, Evie just wants Adam to find his perfect partner, and in Falling in Love Again, Gemma wants to preserve a unique treasure for posterity.

  4. Believability is important Marilyn, and whether it’s worthwhile possibly relates to our own experiences and value systems and also how in sync we feel with the character. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Hi Alyssa. When motivation stems from something inside a character rather than the character just wanting something material, that's the best motivation for me as a reader and writer. I'm big on justice -good wins against bad - so I gravitate to stories with justice as motivation. Add self sacrifice into the mix and that's what I love to read.

    1. Alyssa J Montgomery5 April 2019 at 11:14

      Those are all appealing to me too!

  6. What a fabulous post Alyssa. Thanks so much for sharing your deep knowledge of the importance of strong character motivation and ways to convey this to the reader.

  7. Alyssa J Montgomery5 April 2019 at 11:15

    Glad you enjoyed the blog, Sharon.


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