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Character Motivation + Primary Goal

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by FifthView, Jul 9, 2016.

  1. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Legendary Sidekick's recent thread introduced the McGoo method of planning characters, and it prompted me to reexamine what I've felt to be my weakness in planning new long-form stories. It's a roadblock I seem to hit nearly every time I have a new story idea, and I wanted to post my most recent thoughts here for some feedback that might help me find a way of overcoming future roadblocks.

    The "G" in McGoo is Goal. I do wonder if goal and motivation should often be considered separately, and that's fine, but for the purpose of this thread I'm mostly interested in how others go about determining a primary motivation, a primary goal for a character before beginning a story. I've emphasized "primary" and "beginning" because this is the area that so often trips me up when I'm developing a main character for a new story.

    I do believe that long form fantasy fiction (novels) will usually introduce a large number of secondary, tertiary, etc., motivations and goals for main characters. Each chapter might include its own motivation and goal, or multiple motivations and goals. Each scene might have a narrow motivation and goal as characters navigate their world and take baby steps toward achieving an overall goal. These lesser motivations and goals are a strong point for me, something I find relatively easy to imagine and plan. But determining an initial, primary motivation and goal—that I care about—is a lot harder for me to do.

    While thinking about this over the last however many hours, I've been considering different examples, trying to categorize or at least isolate different approaches toward creating "G" for characters—remember, that initial "G" (heh), that is determined in the planning stages. (How that "G" is revealed in the novel seems to be significant also.) There will be some overlap in these.

    The Kill Bill Method — This is a revenge tale. Revenge is The Bride's primary motivation/goal, and this goal is made explicit very early in the first movie and carries throughout the movie. Every step The Bride takes is in service to this goal. I think this is the simplest approach when planning a novel, and also that it can be a very good motivator for the writer. It can create strong enthusiasm for the writer and the reader, if for no other reason than that it is clear, well-defined. Revenge is not the only sort of goal in this category. It can be almost anything, but the point is this: "G" is determined early by the writer and it shapes the MC's actions from the very beginning. It could be a major heist, finding love and/or a suitable spouse, overthrowing a ruling class, escaping enslavement....the list goes on.

    The Dune Method — What's Paul's initial motivation and goal? Eventually, he is motivated by revenge and ambition. But the goals of killing/destroying the Harkonnens and the Emperor and taking over Arrakis and the Empire don't come until much later in the book, prompted to a large degree by Baron Harkonnen's invasion and murder of his father. To some extent, these later goals are like the goal of revenge in Kill Bill. But in planning what to write in the first many chapters, in planning the character from the beginning, I don't think we can call those goals the primary motivator/goal.

    Rather, I think Paul's primary goal at the beginning, and even later throughout the book, is this: To come to some understanding of his changing circumstances (including himself) and to find a "home" or a solid, secure role for himself amidst the changing circumstances.

    From the beginning, we learn that he has some strong power although he himself doesn't fully understand it. This is that scene in which the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother tests him; even if he understands something of the Bene Gesserit powers, he is an outlier because he is male. Later, his arrival on Arrakis further opens his eyes to this mystery about himself as his body becomes saturated with the spice. He begins to have visions, etc.

    From the beginning, he and his family are already preparing for their move to Arrakis, and this is a major change for them. He doesn't know what to expect. We might say that an early motivation/goal is the survival of his family, of himself; but this is implicit, I think, in his goal of coming to understanding his changing circumstances and finding/creating a secure role for himself.

    I would also say that revenge against his enemies later in the book is merely an "answer" to his initial primary goal. His role. Leading the Fremen is another answer. Becoming Muad'dib (or the Mahdi) is another answer.

    Incidentally, Harry Potter falls into this category also. Eventually, defeating Voldemort and the Death Eaters becomes a goal, but it's not the initial motivator/goal. We're several books into the series before that becomes a goal. No, he wants to come to an understanding of himself (He's a wizard!) and to find his True Place in his changing circumstances.

    I'd like to say that, like the Kill Bill method, there are multiple goals that would fit within this category....but I'm not sure there are many? The primary difference seems to be this: The motivator/goal is implicit rather than explicit from the beginning (to the degree that even readers might not fully see it for quite some time, although they'll probably have a strong sense of it) and it's relatively amorphous—psychological, emotional.

    The Come What May Method — Ok, I don't mean to reference any specific book or movie by that name. The methods above seem obvious to me, they jump out at me, and I'm including this category as a sort of catch-all for anything that doesn't fit the first two categories. But, I do see a sort of definition to this. Basically, in Come What May MCs have no initial overriding goal but merely meet circumstances as they come. They may have intrinsic motivators that are personality-based, general goals; but while these may influence the story, the story doesn't exist to satisfy those goals. Satisfaction of those goals may be incidental. I think these types of stories may be episodic in nature or else serialized stories in which a new "goal" is determined by some new inciting incident for each new story involving those characters.

    Incidentally....

    a) I'm not sure if a great many stories might actually fall into that last category, in which some inciting incident fairly early in the story becomes the primary goal for the rest of the story. Is that a new category of its own? Or does it fall into Come What May? This may be a frivolous consideration on my part, but when I set about to brainstorm a story, it's major for me. Do I first determine an overriding goal/motivator for a character, or can I just create a character I like in general and then throw interesting incitements at him?

    b) Actually, in the cases of Kill Bill and Dune, we might be able to say that the inciting incident happens before the movie/book begins. The Bride's fiance and (as far as she knows) unborn child are murdered before the movie begins. Paul Atreides' family was ordered to relocate to Arrakis before the beginning of the book. Again, though, this influences pre-determination of an overarching goal that will be in effect from the very beginning of the story.

    In sum, and to bring this topic back to my own initial goal:

    I have a difficult time settling on a Kill Bill or Dune determination of initial, overarching goal for a main character. I can imagine such motivations for any character. But in the Kill Bill approach my tendency is not to care very much about the goal (revenge? revolution?), which saps my motivation. In the Dune method, which is my normal tendency, the motivation seems so amorphous, I have a difficult time visualizing it, planning out a story around it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2016
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  2. I've been wrestling with the issues of goal and motivation often recently. I'm starting to think of goal as the more obvious, external facet of the two (which are close to the same thing), whereas motivation is deeper and more underlying.

    You might say that goal is outside your character and motivation is inside your character.

    Also, motivation is what propels the whole story. Goals are the substance of the story, they make up the story--but without motivation, the goals are hollow.

    Motivation, as I said earlier, is inside your character. It's driven by your character's experiences, desires, dreams, insecurities. It's the need to fulfill an empty space in their soul, a hunger. Motivation isn't what your character wants, but WHY they want it. What is the discontent deep inside your character that, at its core, drives the story? No one is perfectly happy. We all have things we wish and desire and need.

    Goals are the things the character's motivation compels them to move toward in order to achieve fulfillment. The characters (usually) have to reach their goal to fulfill their motivation. (I said usually because sometimes the characters are mistaken about what will fulfill their internal need. For example, maybe a young warrior thinks that to come to terms with the death of his father, he has to go on a quest to avenge his death, but on his quest he finds out that taking revenge on his father's killer won't take away his pain.)

    If my life were a story, my goal would be to write and publish a novel. The motivation underneath that goal would be my love of writing, my love of my story, and my need to connect with other people through writing and bring joy to them and myself.

    In my work in progress, I ran into quite a lot of trouble since I didn't understand the difference between motivation and goal. I made goals for my characters, but I didn't understand the motivations that drove them. There weren't any--the characters had goals without any motivations. Finding the characters' motivations required me to plumb their depths and find out what their deepest needs and desires are.
     
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  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Just a quick distinction for FifthView. This is my own wording, so don't take this as a technical definition.

    You accomplish a goal. You do not accomplish motivation.
    A motivation is a motive, which is to say what moves you to action. The hero's goal might be to slay a dragon, but his motive is to win favor with the king.

    A motive can have multiple goals. A person can have multiple motivations behind a single goal. Also, motivations are individual, if not always unique. Goals, otoh, tend to be shared by multiple characters.

    So, I would distinguish between the two.
     
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  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    The way I see things a character doesn't just have one primary goal. They have three. Each goal is a plot thread unto itself that together form a complete story.

    Since we're on Kill Bill here well use that as an example. Please forgive me if I get some details wrong. It's been a while since I've seen the film, but regardless, hopefully it illustrates my point. Plus Tarantino films can be tricky when there are flashbacks involved.

    1 - Physical goal - this is often the most obvious one to see. Kill Bill. She has to run the gambit of bosses and Deadley Viper Assassin Squad members to to get to him. Why? Bill tried to kill her.

    2 - Emotional Goal - make a better life for her child. This plot thread is reveal through the flash backs, from her leaving Bill to marry some guy in a small town, and is brought into the story when it's revealed the child is alive. Why? She leads a dangerous life and what parent doesn't want better for their child?

    3 - Spiritual Goal - To be a worthy mother. This plays out in flash back when it's revealed how she walked away from a job to make a better life for her child. Why? She was an assassin, a bad person. Can a bad person be a good mother? But she uses her assassin skills to fight for her daughter, rectifying the two sides of her, assassin and mother.

    A lot of times two of the goals tend to be very closely wrapped around one another. So close in fact I tend to just use two goals Physical and Emotional, and that's usually enough.

    In Kill Bill when the flash backs sort of retroactively give added meaning to the Bride's actions. Fighting the bosses is no longer just a fight to Kill Bill, it becomes a fight for her daughter and a better life for her when it's revealed her daughter is alive. Her willingness to fight through hardships becomes a baptism of fire leading to her being worthy of her daughter's love.

    For something more straight forward. Star Wars is an example I use all the time.

    Luke's goals

    Physical Goal - Fight/Defeat the empire. Why? They killed his family and there's nothing left for him on Tatooine

    Emotional Goal - Rescue the Princess. Why? Love interest. (Yeah, that's your sister but it's brotherly love right?)

    Spiritual Goal - Become a Jedi like his father. Why? He never knew his father and this is something that connects them both.

    In Star Wars Physical and Emotional Goal as I listed them above are kind of close to one another, so if I were to just use Physical and Emotional labels, I'd list Physical goal as fight the empire and rescue princess and emotional goal as become a jedi like his father.

    Any way, that's how I organise my character goals and motivations. Each is a plot thread that shows up depending on how the story is told. Sometimes the emotional plot leads us to the physical plot. Other times it's the other way around. But IMHO every main character has these two goals, even if it's just a very thinly covered.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2016
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  5. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

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    That's an interesting method but can you clarify the difference between emotional and spiritual goal?
     
  6. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    I think it depends on what works for you. For me, if I know the goal (not the character's only goal, but one that's important to the story), then I know what motivates the character to meet that goal.
     
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  7. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    When you go from physical goal to spiritual, you go down a spectrum of how much it means to how many. The physical goal affects the most people. Freeing the galaxy means a lot to many.

    The Emotional goal means a lot to a few. It's the goal that means the most to the hero and those around them. It's the goal that if failed is the punch to the heart. No save princess, no love story. (But then again that's his sister. Ewww.) But in the long run, Han Solo is glad the princess got saved.

    The Spiritual goal is the most personal of goals, which only matters to the hero. It's something the hero is missing in their lives whether they know it or not. Its the private inner quest.

    Like I said before sometimes these goals can seem closely related and can be hard to differentiate. For example isn't rescuing the princess part of fighting the empire? Any way.

    For the most part, I think it doesn't really matter how you label the goals, as long as you have them in your thoughts and use them as driving factors as you design the story and figure out how to proceed.

    What ever works in keeping your thoughts straight and clear is what ever it is.
     
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Well I did write early in the OP that "goal and motivation should often be considered separately." ;)

    But I'm looking at initial motivations and goals, intrinsic factors that shape a character's life and activities before the story even begins and how these intersect with the story to come. While I'm interested in the effects on story, my question (difficulty) is about character planning.

    For example, Han Solo. His initial motivations/goals could be parsed into various aspects but these combine to form a single starting condition, and this starting condition could be characterized as a single motivation/goal matrix because of the way they combine:

    • He wants to keep making money.
    • He wants to avoid creditors.
    • He wants to remain free to act (unhindered by creditors, Empire, etc.)

    This is what shapes him, why he acts as the way he does from the beginning and why he continues to do the things he does from the beginning forward. I don't know if there is a single word that can encompass all these (i.e., to say, this is the single Goal or this is the single Motivation) but we might be able to call it "To Be an Independent Trader/Smuggler," and it's not exactly important that we segment this out as a separate, distinct motivation and a separate, distinct goal.

    He does eventually branch out a little—rescue Princess Leia, aid in the fight against the Empire—but these are new goals late in the first movie and they only arise because of new inciting incidents. We could look at The Force Awakens to see how, even in his old age, those initial motivations/goals continue to have a large effect on his decision making processes. (I.e., he's not actually in the Resistance, but he's hauling three giant beasts in a massive freighter ship, for the purposes of making money/trade again—and incidentally, creditors show up to collect old debts, argh.)

    I don't see it this way. Maybe this is in part because I tend to think in terms of MRUs: motivation-reaction units. Example:

    The soldier aimed a downward slash, and Rolf raised his shield to block it.​

    Was Rolf motivated by the soldier's action? He wouldn't have raised his shield otherwise.

    One might try to parse that to say, no, Rolf is motivated by self-preservation. Another might step in and say, no, the spirit of revenge has infected Rolf, and his sense of self-preservation is motivated by the fact that Baron Gorby is fighting three feet away and Rolf's being killed now by this soldier's slash would prevent the fulfillment of that desire for revenge upon the Baron.

    It is like asking whether The Bride in Kill Bill is motivated by a spirit of vengeance, by grief over the death of her unborn child, or by the fact that Bill and the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad committed those murders. What is the motivation—or, the motivator?

    Similarly, Han Solo's motivations and goals beyond Being a Trader/Smuggler may be incidents that happen later in the movies to provoke him or they could be some interior, amorphous psychological/emotional state of being (to paraphrase, "Yeah, I'm just in it for the money. But I couldn't stand by and see Luke killed during the assault on the Death Star.")

    These later motivations/goals, when a character is prompted to decide on a sub-goal, are things that I find easy to imagine and plan as I write scenes and chapters. I have a basic idea of the character of the character, a personality. But determining the intrinsic motivations/goal in the initial phase of brainstorming a new story is more difficult for me.


    At the intrinsic, most basic level, I'm not sure that motivation and goal can so easily be separated. For example, "to achieve fulfillment of X motivation" might be the intrinsic goal, whatever manifestation this process takes later in the story.

    This is a great observation. I'd mentioned implicit vs explicit goals in my OP, as general ways of distinguishing between an upfront, clearly communicated goal vs a more psychological/emotional goal, for writer and reader. But afterward I also realized that the implicit vs explicit nature may describe the character's relation to or understanding of his own driving motivation/goal. The Bride in Kill Bill has an explicit goal from the very beginning and knows what she's trying to achieve. But in Dune and Harry Potter, Paul and Harry don't have a clear picture of their own intrinsic motivations and goals. (An interesting character difference between those two: Paul Atreides is more self-aware than Harry Potter at the beginning of his own story; he's prone to introspection, which is something Harry begins to do much later in the series.)
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2016
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    My difficulty occurs when I think "to win favor with the king" is the goal. :D

    I do think it's useful to parse implicit and explicit goals, or subconscious vs conscious goals. A character might have in mind the goal of slaying a dragon but not realize his real goal is to win esteem. Or, he might know exactly why he's going to slay the dragon; the slaying is merely a means toward achieving a larger goal.

    I also think it helps to think in terms of goals being something definite, solid–clear courses of action. Creating these sub-goals, these steps along the way (means to an end) is something that I have less difficulty imagining for a story. I also don't always have a problem with determining an "end" goal for a character, at least what will become his end goal at some point during the story. But when I'm planning a story, trying to settle on his initial goals, initial motivations, I encounter more difficulty.

    I'll give a specific example. Although Legendary Sidekick's thread brought this conundrum to the forefront of my mind, an event with Heliotrope months ago planted the seed that has troubled me ever since. We were discussing via PM creating working premise statements for WIPs. I'd been trying for a couple weeks to parse my novel down to its most basic features, something to guide me as I write, and I'd come up with this:

    As a favor to his regional sovereign, a young man from a privileged magical caste travels to the imperial capital city to advocate for the release of a woman wrongly accused of stealing from the Emperor's family and becomes embroiled in a deadly contest between two shadowy cabals vying for control of the empire, risking his privileged status and the lives of his two young protégés in the process.​

    I'd toyed with other edits to the premise statement which I won't post here. This gives the gist of it.

    Behind the summary is a general understanding I have, unstated in the summary, of this character's personality and position in society and the sorts of elements that will come into play as the story progresses–including various goals. I even have some intrinsic goals and motivations for the character; these revolve around maintaining independence from the state while also maintaining his particular "family unit" (He is mentor to two younger apprentices).

    In a way, my concept of this MC and how the story begins and progresses is much like the "Dune Method" I outlined above. At the outset, he's arriving in the imperial city (a new set of circumstances) and events there will prompt and/or provoke sub-goals, or means toward fulfilling his primary motivation (coming out of it alive, family unit intact and independence from the state intact). These will be the meat of the story.

    BUT...Heliotrope asked me questions about my three main characters. What is their role? What are they trying to achieve? My first thought was that they are trying to escape the situation intact–generally stated. Now, looking at my recent thoughts about Dune, I wonder if she was prodding me toward making solid decisions about the choices these characters will need to make as they work their way through the unfolding events. Maybe these are the "answers" or fulfillment of the basic motivation.

    One of the basic problems (perhaps) with the premise statement above is the passive phrasing, becomes embroiled in.

    Helio's questions also prompted me to ask: WHAT is my character doing in his life prior to the provocations he'll encounter in the imperial city? Han Solo is going about being a smuggler. Rey is trying to survive her living conditions long enough for some missing family or loved ones to return. My MC should already be working toward specific things, specific goals, before the story ever starts. And this is the thing I have difficulty settling upon. I feel I should determine that before his life's thrown out of whack because of what happens in the imperial city. Deciding how his initial motivations and goals will influence other things (and which to choose) is the part tripping me up.
     
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  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Sounds like you just need to spend more time with your character. He comes from a magical caste. A privileged one, no less. That means he was born into it, right? Were his parents high up in the hierarchy? Does daddy have grand plans for junior? Obviously they are well-placed, since the sovereign himself asked junior to do this favor for him.

    Does junior resent the career path laid out for him? Is he rebellious, sullen, looking for a way out? Or does he hope to walk in his father's footsteps, trying to measure up, never feeling like he quite does? If it's the former, then you might think about the little rebellions, the arguments, and what he might be planning. Maybe he views this assignment as a way to escape. Maybe he plans to botch the job accidentally on purpose.

    Or, he wants nothing more than to shine on this one, because he's come up short in the past, never top of the class, always overlooked. Yet, once again, everything he does seems to turn out wrong. Either path would justify him taking ever-greater risks as he digs himself an ever-deeper hole.

    I think of something I read or heard, that a scene is about I want something right now, and you want something right now, and each of us urgently wants to communicate that to the other. So we talk past each other, around each other. But in order to write that, the author has to know what each party wants. Knowing that is even more important than the actual dialog or confrontation, because if you know that, the scene will all but write itself. As ever, such advice is too absolute, but I took the point to heart. Too often I came into a scene knowing what I as the author wanted, but with an insufficient understanding of what the characters wanted, both generally and at exactly that moment.
     
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    For me, this #2 and #3 belong to a different story, either the Prequel or a Sequel to the two Kill Bill movies.

    The Bride doesn't discover that her daughter is still alive until near the end of the two movies. When she begins the story, #1 is her only goal. Now, maybe we could say that having #2 and #3 so violently obstructed prior to the beginning of the movies–she failed to achieve those goals, but that's thanks to Bill and the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad–prompts #1.

    I've been trying to see how I'd characterize Luke, although I may be misremembering some things. I think that at the beginning of the movies, his primary motivation and goal is adventure. He wants to get off Tatooine and have an adventurous life. Leia's message in R2-D2, Obi-Wan's info about Luke's father, and the deaths of Luke's uncle and aunt become occasions for Luke to realize that goal. (The death of his uncle and aunt are also a removal of an obstacle toward achieving his desire for adventure. But I think he'd've left with Obi-Wan even if they hadn't been killed.)

    I don't exactly know when this initial motivation and goal changed to become a goal to overthrow the Empire. Was it the deaths on Tatooine? Was it the destruction of Leia's home planet or just seeing the violent nature of the Empire on the Death Star? Was it Vader's killing of Obi-Wan?

    I'm also thinking that Luke is similar to Paul Atreides and Harry Potter. He wants to "discover himself" (the Force, being a Jedi, becoming like his father before avoiding becoming like his father.) He wants to find his role in things, where he belongs. (Not on Tatooine!) I think that this goal appears to be largely fulfilled, symbolically at least, when he receives his medal in front of that great assembly at the end of the first movie. But it carries further into the other movies as well. What's training with Yoda if not one effort to discover himself or become more fully enshrined in a role?

    I'm wondering if these are just the fantasy version of the coming-of-age story. Or is it the farmboy-becomes-savior-with-power story?

    I do think that looking at different types of goal and different types of motivation is helpful.
     
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm trying to find something that works for me, lol.

    In the last week I've had a new idea for a revenge story. I love revenge stories, but I've never thrown myself into writing one. I also love arena stories (combat before an audience) so I'm going to throw that into the mix as well. I do think it's simpler. Young magic user travels to a large city to participate in ritualized magical combat (in an arena) but his real goal is avenging the death of his mother. Simple, clean, neat.
     
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  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    This is where the Pixar story format helps me... Once upon a time there was a...... Every day he.....

    Just thinking about these two sentences helps me establish where my character is at the start of the story and how it all ties together.

    Gladiator - once upon a time there was a Roman soldier named Maximus. Everyday he fought for Rome.....

    Tangled - once upon a time there was a lonely girl named Rapunzel. Every day she dreamed to escape her tower and see the world.

    Star Wars - once upon a time there as a farm boy named Luke. Every day he dreamed of leaving the farm and becoming a Jedi like his father....

    You get the point. This gives the character that emotional goal that will be the theme of the story. Then you add the physical goal...
     
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  14. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

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    For what it's worth, my opinion reflects what some others have said: Goal is the concrete measurable thing that the character wants; motivation is the reason he wants that goal.

    In addition, the motivation might be simply to achieve another goal. I.e. the man's goal is to slay the dragon. Why? Because he wants to win the king's favour. But that's a goal too. So this motivation is the completion of another goal. Ergo, why does he want the king's favour? To marry the princess. Why does he want to marry the princess? To be happy.

    Now, with the last one, we have a motivation that has intrinsic value. Or we might qualify it further by saying that a motivation stems from a need. I.e. the man is lonely, so he needs companionship. To satisfy that need, he sets the goal to marry the princess. This spawns two more goals, which all link back to his original motivation to satisfy the need for companionship.

    -

    Another thing that I thought of while I was reading the thread: a lot of the Dune-style stories -- i.e. Harry Potter and Star Wars -- seem to follow a pattern of the character reacting, and then later choosing to act.
    E.g. Star Wars
    Luke starts off wanting to go pod racing or something with his friends. He reacts as things happen to him (e.g. R2 wandering off, and Luke going to look for him), and tries to restore the status quo. When Obi-Wan suggests he come along, he declines. But at some point, he changes from reacting the things happening to him. I.e. when he gets home and finds his family murdered, he makes a choice to act. He changes his goal from wanting to be a pilot (or whatever he wanted originally) to helping Obi-Wan save Leia etc.

    Lord of the Rings
    When Frodo gets the ring, he spends most of his time simply running for his life. I.e. reacting to things happening to him. But later, in Rivendell, he makes a choice to become proactive by taking the ring to Mordor.

    However, this doesn't seem to apply to Kill Bill et al. It feels as if they started after the switch from reaction to action. Also, Kill Bill in particular is 'n sword and bloodfest movie, so it doesn't lend well to long beginnings.
     
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  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Yes, more time with the character and more time with the world.

    The privileged caste is not a birthright. Certain individuals within the society receive abilities randomly, but the society views these individuals as anointed ones, chosen by their goddess. Upon being "anointed" by the goddess, they become members of this privileged class.

    But it's true that I haven't given enough thought to the family backgrounds for these particular characters. I've had some vague ideas, generalities for each character's family background. But because I never expected those family members to play a significant role in the story, I hadn't thought more about it or how those initial circumstances would play a role in shaping their current activities or drives.

    I've read that also, or maybe heard it on a podcast. I'm not sure where. I think this is absolutely true, and perhaps this is one of the reasons I've felt a block in not knowing my MC's starting position, intrinsic motivations.
     
  16. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    So I've been doing this a little to see what effect it would have. Such a stunningly simple exercise. I think it might work.

    This reduction to an almost absurd fairytale summarization may help in clarifying some of the basics. It's also a way to break out from the complex feel and ideas I have about the character, my image of him–like peeling back those layers of complexity.

    I've been wondering if a limerick exercise could work also, or an extended series of limericks, lol.

    There once was a mage from the West
    enjoined by his queen to protest
    the emperor's ruling,
    but who were they fooling?
    The maid had already confessed.

    So after a lifetime of ease,
    and doing whatever they'd please,
    this mage and apprentices
    would face some long sentences–
    the Emperor's blathered decrees.

    But maid and the Empire aside,
    the mage and his wards would be tried
    by cabals of mad plotters,
    betrayals and slaughters,
    and driven to swallow their pride.​



    Meh, it's a start.
     
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  17. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Actually awesome. I love that.
     
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  18. Outlining with limericks?? never heard that before!
     
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I find that I have a tendency to choose MCs who, at the beginning of the tale, are already living in a state of equilibrium, who have some sort of idyllic or monotonous or stable life, a living situation they've become habituated to and which, by definition almost, they have no great desire to escape. (Otherwise, they would've already begun a process of escaping it!)

    So for the MC I've already mentioned in this thread: He is in a privileged caste, wants for nothing really, etc., at the beginning of the tale. On the opposite end, I have an MC from another story set in that same world who is a young goatherd living in a remote but peaceful village, who is just coming to the age where he's beginning to feel a slight wanderlust nagging at him but the feeling hasn't reached his conscious mind yet. He's quite content in his life otherwise.

    So rich/privileged or poor, or anywhere between, my MCs don't have a great deal of ambition! This is problematic when trying to consider initial motivations, goals, etc. as a starting condition.

    But then, something happens, their lives are upended. So they need to react, change, and eventually pursue something.

    I'd compare that to the way Guardians of the Galaxy begins. In the past, we are shown that Peter Quill's stability is upended (his mother dies, he's whisked away by a spaceship), but for me that's like a prologue. When the real story begins, he's shown in the process of acquiring an artifact that he'll sell. He has ambition, is already "protagging" or active in pursuing something. That's like The Bride in Kill Bill, just a different sort of ambition.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2016
  20. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

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    You don't necessarily need 'ambition' per se. The Guardians of the Galaxy example is a good one to illustrate this with. He's going after the artifact; but that's just his job. I.e. he is in a stable condition, and he's simply maintaining that status quo and solving a problem within that status quo.

    I think a good way to start with a character like that (i.e. who is happy with the status quo) is to show them working on a problem or goal within the framework of their current status quo. That way, they're protagging without needing them to be ambitious and wanting out of the status quo. And you can therefore hold back on the main plot without making the story boring.

    E.g. in your story, you have a guy who is in a privileged caste and quite content with it. But is there perhaps something he's trying to achieve within that status quo at this moment? E.g. impress his father so that he'll be allowed to go on a holiday trip or whatever? Or maybe something minor has gone wrong.

    And now, looking back at your post about it on the previous page; your character is already pursuing a goal within his status quo. Freeing the woman as a favour to the regional sovereign. Ergo, if he's trying to do this favour to the sovereign and someone tries to stop him, and he pushes through anyway, and you have your 'ambition' without him having to want to change his status quo.

    Also, the Bride and Peter's starts aren't the same. The Bride starts off with the main plot goal in mind (revenge), while Peter starts off with an unrelated (well, later related, but he doesn't know that) goal, and then something goes wrong and he's thrown into the main plot (and at some point decides to act instead of reacting).
     
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