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Character Motivation in Fiction

Welcome readers. Here is part two of three on the necessity of goals, motivation, and conflict for our fictional characters.

GMC: Part 2 – Motivation

Guest Post by Crystal Caudill

Goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC) are the basic building blocks for any fiction piece you write. In this three-part series, we’re going to break down each component for both the newbie writer and the experienced writer. Last week we looked at Goals (LINK TO PREVIOUS POST). This week we are examining motivation.


Goal and motivation co-exist. You cannot have one without the other. If goal answers the question, what? Motivation answers the question, why? Motivation is what drives your character to go after and achieve that goal.

Remember how we talked about creating compelling goals is critical to a good story? Motivation is what makes that happen.

Why is it so important? 

For any reader to invest in your character’s goal, they must understand the character’s why behind that goal. Even if the reader disagrees with the goal, they can follow the character through almost anything if they can understand the reason for it. Motivation is what helps us to empathize and connect with your character.

Even villains need to have motivations for readers to accept the story as believable. I heard it at a conference once that even villains are the hero of their own story. They believe the reasons for their goals are valiant. In my current WIP, the mother’s goal is to keep her family together. What mother wouldn’t? However, her motivation is not so much for her adult children’s good, but for her desire to feel wanted and needed. This is a motivation we can all connect with, even if we don’t agree with the methods she takes to ensure her children don’t leave her.

The great thing about the fiction world is you can have your character do whatever you want as long as the reader understands the why.

Making Motivation Compelling and Urgent

Urgency will drive the plot of your story, so your motivations need to be both compelling and urgent. When characters have a deadline, they can’t put off pursuing their goal until later. It must happen now, no matter the challenges that may provide.

Last week I mentioned stakes. Stakes are the cost of not meeting this goal, and the higher your stakes, the stronger your character’s motivation and urgency. Make a list of the stakes your character faces if they fail. These can be physical, like losing a job, or emotional, like believing they are unlovable. Take into consideration what they may gain. What your character gains from achieving the goal can be just a powerful as the potential loss.

Are you struggling to figure out your character’s stakes? My motto is, “Make it worse.”

Your character has a loan they cannot repay? Make it worse. A bank will repossess your house and the items you own, but what can a ruthless loan shark? Imagine how the plot would be different for each of those scenarios. Which storyline will be more compelling to read?

Taking Motivation a Step Further

Motivation shouldn’t only drive your overarching goal. It should drive your character’s every decision and action.

  • Why did honest Joe steal from the bank? Because his family was held captive and threatened with death if he didn’t.
  • Why did the rich heiress choose the rich rogue instead of the man she loved? Because her family was in financial ruin, and her little sister would not be able to receive treatment without his infusion of money.

Give a reason which will make your characters willing to risk anything and everything to achieve their goal. Give them no other choice. A weak motivation leads to a weak story.

Are you feeling bold? Share your answers in the comments to the application questions below.

Application Questions:

  • What is your character’s goal?
  • What is their motivation?
  • Why do they desperately want it?
  • What do they have to lose or gain?
  • How can you make it worse?



Crystal Caudill is an award-winning historical romance author with a flair for danger.  She is a member of RWA and ACFW, a monthly contributor to, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. Her debut novel will release early 2022 from Kregel Publishing.

Connect with Crystal at her website:

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Rhonda

    These are such excellent tips!

    1. Crystal Caudill

      Thanks so much, Rhonda!

  2. Jean Hall

    Thanks, Crystal. I’m getting motivated reading tese posts!

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