Why do characters do what they do? What would make one character kill another character? Or cheat on them? Or run away from them? The answer of course is that every character has (or should have) a motive. Motivation is important, for heroes, villain, and minor characters. Most people, and by extension characters, are lazy. If you could get everything you needed or wanted without having to lift a finger, most people would jump at the opportunity. Therefore, most characters want to stay the way they are at the beginning of your story. Change is hard. In order to get your characters moving in the right direction, or at all, you need to give them a reason. A realistic reason.

Motives are not the same things as events. Your character doesn’t leave home because his mother was killed. Your character leaves home because he wants revenge. That is the thought that gets him moving. Here is a small list of some common character motivations.

  • An habitual learned behavior
  • A character’s personality/nature
  • To hide a secret
  • To expose a secret
  • Greed
  • Revenge
  • Jealousy
  • Obsession/Lust/Love
  • Hate
  • Fear
  • Mental disorder/drugs
  • To protect something (loved one, honor, status, etc.)
  • Empathy/Sympathy
  • Ego
  • Outside Control (mind control, demonic possession, etc.)
  • Fanaticism/Religion
  • Survival
  • Freedom
  • Thrill of the hunt/chase/etc.

Note: I have seen lists as small as two and, if you really want to argue the fact, you could probably say that everything boils down to fear, but when you get down to planning out a story you would have to be more specific anyway.