7 Tips to Craft Compelling Character Motivation in Fiction (2024)

7 Tips to Craft Compelling Character Motivation in Fiction (1)From KMW:As “the lie that tells the truth,” fiction only works when it is able to present a reasonable facsimile of reality. At the level of plot, it does this by creating a string of causes and effects that feel plausible. The foundation of this plausibility is the greatest “cause” of them all: character motivation.

There are many ways to approach character motivation. You might start with the motive and see what actions result. Or you might start out knowing what you want to seehappenin the plot, then work backward to determine a reasonable motive for such actions. Either way, if the character’s motive works, then so will the plot. If not, the whole story will be in jeopardy.

Today, I’m happy to share with you a post from editor and author C.S. Lakin, in which she dives into some foundational considerations for choosing and fleshing out the best motivations for your characters and your plot.


In the vast world of fiction, characters are the lifeblood of every story. Whether you’re writing a short story or embarking on an epic novel, crafting compelling characters is essential for drawing readers into your world. Among the myriad elements that make up a character’s identity, motivation stands at the forefront. Character motivation serves as the driving force behind actions, decisions, and evolution throughout your narrative.

But how can you ensure that your characters’ motivations are not only engaging but will also resonate deeply with your readers?

7 Tips to Craft Can’t-Look-Away Character Motivation

Let’s look at seven invaluable tips to help you create characters who not only come alive on the page but who also stay with your readers long after they’ve finished reading the last page.

1. Avoid Useless and Boring Descriptions

Characterization begins with your characters’ physical and emotional attributes, but it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of generic descriptions. Instead, immerse readers in the character’s point of view (POV). By describing characters through the lens of your characters’ thoughts, emotions, and experiences, you make them relatable and breathe life into your storytelling.

Instead of providing a laundry list of physical traits, allow your protagonist to shape the description based on their perspective, mood, emotions, and experiences. Let readers see other characters as your protagonist does, filtered through the narrator’s unique voice and personality. This approach not only enhances character depth but also immerses readers in the protagonist’s world.

2. Motivation Is Everything

Motivation serves as the backbone of every character’s journey in your story, from the protagonist to the antagonist and even the secondary characters. Motivation is the invisible force driving their actions and decisions. It’s the heartbeat of your narrative.

Begin by understanding that every character, regardless of their role, must possess a clear and believable motivation. Your protagonist’s inner motivation creates propulsion toward an overarching goal, while the antagonist’s motivation needs to create obstacles to the protagonist’s progress.

Start by identifying your characters’ primary motivations, which align with their visible goals within the story. This motivation should be rooted in past experiences, personality traits, and background. Characters should never act on a whim or without reason. Instead, their actions should emerge naturally from their intrinsic drives and external circ*mstances. Let that motivation drive the plot from start to finish.

3. Put In the Work

Creating well-motivated characters demands dedication and effort. Avoid shortcuts and resist the temptation to take the easy route of vague motivations such as “they just feel like it.” As a writer, you owe it to readers to deliver more than superficial characters who act without reason.

To infuse depth into your characters, invest time in exploring their past, wounds, fears, passions, and beliefs. Recognize that the process of character development is an essential aspect of writing fiction. If you’re serious about storytelling, commit to the laborious task of constructing multidimensional characters.

4. Give Characters Room to Breathe

While it’s crucial to invest in thorough character development, you don’t need to create exhaustive character biographies before you start writing. Allow your characters room to evolve naturally during the writing process. Sometimes characters surprise you with their actions and insights as you let them breathe on the page.

Writing is a dynamic partnership between the author and the characters. Provide enough depth and background to bring your characters to life but also give them freedom to grow within the context of your scenes. This balance ensures that your characters remain true to their core motivations while evolving organically throughout the story.

5. Focus on the Big Picture—Premise and Core Need

Effective character development begins with a deep understanding of your character’s primary motivation and how it aligns with the story’s premise. Your characters’ goal is the central focus of your plot, and their inner motivation serves as the driving force that propels them toward achieving that goal. Every scene should seamlessly align with this overarching motivation.

Distinguish between your character’s inner motivation (core need) and their goal-driven motivation. The core need is an integral aspect of personality and subconscious motivation, while the goal-driven motivation is tied directly to the external plot.

6: Explore the Wound

To create truly compelling characters, delve into their past experiences and emotional wounds that shape their motivations. Consider the emotional and psychological scars that influence their fears, insecurities, and behaviors.

Take a moment to reflect on your own life and consider what motivates your goals. Apply this introspection to your characters. Understand that their pasts, upbringing, and life events are the ingredients that contribute to their unique motivations.

7. Keep It Relatable—The Three M’s

The easiest way to remember all these points is to reflect on the 3 M’s: Mindset, Motivation, and Mood. These elements provide readers with immediate insight into your character’s state of mind, what drives them, and their emotional context.

1. Mindset

Portray your character’s current state of mind, attitude, and immediate concerns. Avoid creating characters who are entirely carefree or devoid of inner conflicts. A character’s mindset should be influenced by motivations and past experiences.

2. Motivation

Convey why your character is taking specific actions or pursuing certain goals. Everything your character does should be rooted in sound motivations that are informed by past experiences and personality traits.

3. Mood

Reflect your character’s mood through thoughts, actions, and dialogue. Connect mood to mindset, highlighting how the character’s inner world influences behavior.


Crafting character motivation is an art form that enhances your storytelling. These seven tips provide a roadmap for creating characters that not only captivate readers but also drive your plot forward and emotionally attach readers to your characters. Characters with well-defined motivations are the heart of a compelling story. Invest the time and effort needed to bring them to life on the page, and watch as your readers become deeply engaged in the worlds you create.

7 Tips to Craft Compelling Character Motivation in Fiction (2024)


7 Tips to Craft Compelling Character Motivation in Fiction? ›

The five methods are physical description, action, inner thoughts, reactions, and speech.

What are the five 5 ways an author brings a character to life in a passage? ›

The five methods are physical description, action, inner thoughts, reactions, and speech.

What makes a character compelling? ›

Characters should almost always have clear goals, even if these goals are not immediately made obvious to the reader. Without goals, characters lack motivation—that is, they have little reason to do anything interesting. For this reason, many writers connect the main character's goals to the main conflict in the story.

What is a character's motivation responses? ›

Character motivation is the reason behind a character's behaviors and actions in a given scene or throughout a story. Motivations are intrinsic needs: they might be external needs and relate to survival, but they might also be psychological or existential needs, such as love or professional achievement.

What motivates main characters? ›


What are the 6 factors to consider in determining the ideas of the author? ›

These are Audience, Purpose, Organization, Style, Flow and Presentation. Audience: Considering your audience is something you should do before writing your paper.

What are the 5 ways to develop a character? ›

Five Ways to Build Your Character
  • Be Humble. Humility is the beginning of wisdom. ...
  • Live out your principles and values. ...
  • Be intentional. ...
  • Practice self discipline. ...
  • Be accountable.

What are the five key elements of a story explain 10? ›

There are five key elements to every story: plot, setting, characters, point of view, and conflict. Whether your students realize it or not, they naturally include all these elements when they're telling a story to their families or their best fr.

What makes a badly written character? ›

Main characters who lack depth and undergo no development throughout the story. They may be stereotypical, or based on cliches. Generally, they just exist to serve the plot, and don't come across as nuanced or believable. Write consistent, realistic characters with the Character Workbook.

What builds a strong character? ›

10 Ways to Build Your Character Each and Every Day
  • Be known as a promise-keeper. ...
  • Be consistent in your dealings with others. ...
  • Audit your decisions. ...
  • Engage in tough conversations with empathy. ...
  • Nurture meaningful relationships through good and challenging times They almost become disposable.

Can a fictional character inspire you? ›

So, a real-life inspiration may be particularly wise or go about their work in a particularly interesting way. Whatever they offer, they help us to envision a better version of ourselves, thus driving us to work to achieve that version. But can fictional people do that, too? Psychological studies suggest that they can.

What are the strongest motivations? ›

There are many things that motivate us. But the most powerful motivator of all is fear. Fear is a primal instinct that served us as cave dwellers and still serves us today. It keeps us alive, because if we survive a bad experience, we never forget how to avoid it in the future.

What are the five motivations? ›

Through research with thousands of employees and leaders, we've discovered that there are five major motivations that drive people's actions at work; Achievement, Power, Affiliation, Security and Adventure.

What are your top 5 motivations? ›

Good answers to the question 'what motivates you? '
  • meeting deadlines, targets or goals.
  • mentoring and coaching others.
  • learning new things.
  • coming up with creative ideas to improve something, or make something new.
  • analysing complex data in order to draw clear and simple conclusions.
  • working well as part of a team.
Feb 13, 2024

What is an example of motivation in a story? ›

Intrinsic motivation deals with the internal desires of the character, including their spiritual and emotional well-being. For example: Getting revenge for a loved one. Fitting into a social group.

What is an example of motivation? ›

An example of motivation is watching an Olympic athlete and working hard in sports to become like that athlete. Other examples include working hard at achieving a degree to get a high paying job and taking a drink of water to quench a thirst.

What type of motivation comes from within a character? ›

WHAT IS INTERNAL MOTIVATION? “Internal motivation” means that your motivation to accomplish your goal comes from within you. It is determined by your own values and goals.

How can a reader identify character motivations? ›

The statement that correctly describes how a reader can identify character motivations is: by analyzing a character's language and examining the contrasts the author creates. Character motivation refers to the reason or reasons that a character behaves in a particular way.

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