Defining a Memorable Character Part 1 – The Motive

The Motive – Defining a Memorable Character Part 1

February 24, 2016 | Writing

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When writing fiction, defining a character is exceptionally important. To define one, you first need to understand their motive. If they do not have any reason for their actions your character will seem misplaced or a ‘filler’ in the storyline. This can be avoidable as long as you do some preplanning to decide why the character is even in the story to begin with. Each of your characters should help in moving the story forward. So how do you stay organized with characters and their motives?

Create a character sheet.

A character sheet is used for organizing a character’s personality and physical traits along with their objectives in the story. If they have a supportive role to the protagonist, why are they helping them? Are they related to the protagonist or do they have their own personal agenda? What about a villain, what drives them to do the evil work that they do? A character sheet helps you keep track of who they are as you write the story, basically a reminder/list of rules that define them. A personal pet peeve of mine is when a character does something “out of their character”. There is a difference between a plot twist in their personality and something that doesn’t fit, a character sheet can help you define this.

Dive into a character’s past.

Trying to decide on a character’s motive in the story can be drawn back into the past, perhaps they have had a reason dating back to their childhood or a past event that takes place in the story’s lore. Another idea is they may have an intertwined history with another character (like the antagonist), giving them reason to come into the story.

Keep a character’s true motive hidden.

A character’s purpose in the story can be transparent to the reader which will help build a recognition with them, careful though this can also make them predictable and not engaging. Masking their true intention can create mystery and the reader will want to unlock their true intentions. This will help generate interest for the reader to continue on.

Protagonists and Antagonists – Heavy Weights in the plot.

The primary hero and villain in your story aren’t too different in terms of defining their motive (presuming you have a primary antagonist). They are the main focus, meaning the rest of the story will revolve around their intentions and actions. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find their motive for progressing in the story, if you can’t, you may need to rethink their involvement in the story.

Secondary Characters – Information Givers – Plot Changers – why are they there?

Your story may have some additional characters that show up throughout the story. Some of them may be used to provide clues, reveal knowledge or shift the plot. Be careful when introducing them into the story, they need to arrive naturally in the plot. For example, if the protagonist talks to an old man in the woods who sheds light on his journey, how did the hero meet the old man? What was the old man doing in the woods? Scenarios like this can make these secondary characters appear out of place and tossed in to move the story forward. Adding the old man earlier in the story by having him stalk the protagonist on occasion will also give motive for the protagonist to confront him opposed to a random encounter in the woods.


Giving your character a motive is going to add instant depth to the story. The character will gain credibility to the reader and they’ll be accepted as a part of the plot. Keep their motives believable and in synch with the storyline, otherwise they don’t serve a purpose in the story.

Next post will continue to review defining a character by getting into their personality and physical traits, key components to creating a unique and memorable character.

Defining a Memorable Character Part 2 – Traits

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