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Character Motivation Entry: To Right A Past (Or Ongoing) Wrong

Saturday, November 5, 2016 3:24
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What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

animal-crueltyIf you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): To Right a Past (Or Ongoing) Wrong

Forms This Might Take: there are many types of injustices that may resonate with your character, based on their personality, ties to the past, their experience with marginalized groups or people, exposure to different parts of the world and the challenges there, or to causes and beliefs they hold dear.  Possible examples might include

  • advocacy for animals or natural resources
  • advocacy for a group of people who have suffered mistreatment
  • working to bring about change in an area that has been overlooked (the living conditions of children living in third-world orphanages, animal cruelty, etc.)
  • championing a cause (mental health awareness, tackling homelessness, human rights, etc.)
  • building a charity or foundation to help others
  • investigating a situation and then publicizing one’s findings to make an injustice known
  • seeking justice on behalf of an individual or family (to restore a reputation, have credit for something attributed to them, to honor them for a sacrifice or heroic deed)
  • help make amends for something one feels in part responsible for (one’s white privilege, trying to rectify something one’s ancestors did, etc.)
  • to atone for something one did in the past that was irresponsible or caused hurt in some way

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): Self-Actualization

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • soul searching to try and figure out how one might help the situation
  • traveling to study the problem and collect data, or witness the results of unchecked abuse first hand (visiting the site of polluted waters, a child labor camp, a factory farming location, etc.)
  • take action to protect a person, place or thing that is in immediate danger
  • interviewing people who are at the center of the marginalization or injustice
  • digging up old evidence and researching to bring new facts to light
  • fundraising to help the victims
  • volunteering to be accountable for the effort to put a stop to what’s happening
  • planning an event to draw visibility and support for one’s cause
  • starting a website dedicated to the cause one is championing
  • planning meetings and working to draw others in to help
  • reaching out to organizations who may be able to assist (Amnesty International, etc.)
  • staging protests or peaceful rallies to gain visibility for the situation or cause
  • petitioning police or lawmakers to re-open a case, change a law, recognize a situation and investigate, or step in in some way
  • arranging meetings with influential people who may be able to help
  • approaching the media to raise awareness
  • taking one’s fight or cause to social media for visibility
  • public speaking events (in schools, universities, or at conferences) to raise awareness and educate
  • investing one’s time and money to help balance the scale by working to improve the lives of others, support victims, and be on scene in any way that is needed, enduring hardship if necessary
  • take personal responsibility for one’s role by going to the police, media, or the victims, etc. to apologize and accept consequences

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • damaged relationships with family and friends who don’t understand or agree with one’s mission
  • financial hardship as one uses one’s own money to fight for others, pay for necessary studies, tests, infrastructure, travel, etc.
  • a job loss if one’s mission begins to impact one’s day job
  • health deterioration due to stress or testing one’s physical limits
  • a loss of esteem in the eyes of others who don’t agree with one’s choices
  • irreversible family fallout (a divorce, children who refuse to have a relationship with the character) because one’s mission or cause always came first
  • having one’s reputation damaged by those who oppose one’s cause in order to weaken one’s position
  • being harassed or threatened (or having one’s family harassed and threatened) by corrupt agencies or people in power who are invested in information being locked up tight
  • being hurt or killed when one crosses the wrong people
  • public shaming and possible rejection by one’s loved ones and peers if one was personally responsible for the past damage and is now owning up to it to rectify the situation
  • charges laid or incarceration if one is personally responsible for a crime
  • hardship due to legal fees

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • corrupt governments and officials
  • powerful corporations with deep pockets who an invested interest in having one’s cause go away, or silencing one’s voice
  • legal red tape
  • witnesses or victims who are being intimidated into staying silent
  • evidence “going missing”
  • having one’s access to a person, group, place, set of documents, etc. being removed by someone with the power to do so
  • a lack of interest from the public regarding one’s cause
  • people who have conflicting interests making trouble
  • having a personal skeleton come out of the closet which weakens one’s platform and reputation
  • discovering a source of information one has relied on is false
  • finding out that a trusted member of one’s group has mismanaged funds or broken the law in some way, discrediting one’s charity, foundation, or cause
  • a health crisis
  • a personal tragedy
  • being framed for something in order to divert attention or discredit

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  •  disillusionment at society as a whole
  • disappointment in oneself
  • self-loathing (if one was personally responsible and unable to fix the damage)
  • guilt at not doing more
  • second guessing oneself and the work one did
  • being unable to enjoy life the way one once did
  • resentment toward others who did not help (or help as much as they could have) leading to damaged relationships
  • having to “start over” because one’s finances have been drained

Clichés to Avoid:

  • the struggle to win against an adversary (a corporation, a government agency, society’s beliefs, etc.) being straightforward.  The reality is any situation of injustice will have many different facets, and will affect many different individuals and levels of power–if it didn’t, the past wrong would have been fixed before now. Many moving pieces need to be factored in to formulate a realistic battle plan, and many different types of obstacles will need to be overcome by the protagonist (financial, environmental, dealing with interest groups with opposing views, dealing with public misinformation and ignorance, etc.)

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Image: Alexas_photos @ pixabay






The post Character Motivation Entry: To Right A Past (Or Ongoing) Wrong appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

The Bookshelf Muse is a hub for writers, educators and anyone with a love for the written word. Featuring Thesaurus Collections that encourage stronger descriptive skills, this award-winning blog will help writers hone their craft and take their writing to the next level.


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