I've talked a lot about motivations in my articles. And how could I not? My scientific field aside, what makes us behave in certain manners or way is a question that has occupied entire schools of thought in psychology, philosophy, political science, even AI and (bio)chemistry.
There are as a result a whole lot of ways to approach the analysis of motivation (even if you're a hardcore behaviorist and instead of ‘motivation’ you call it ‘learning history and reinforcement’), but what could be a quick rule of thumb when we are creating characters in narrative arts?
In my experience, the easiest and fastest way to get a good grasp and feel about your character's inner motivations about pretty much the entire spectrum of his/her behavior falls under the following list of questions:
1. What does your character love the most?
2. What does your character fear the most?
3. What does your character fear more than love?
4. What does your character love more than fear?
The answers to these questions are going to give you your character's entire framework and limits in what they want to do, need to do, and most importantly, can or cannot do.
Within these answers lies the ‘thin red line’ that they can or cannot cross when the chips are down in any situation. If they fear something more than they love something else, then they'll prioritize satiating the fear more than satisfying the love- without meaning that they don't still have love for that something.
There was a very powerful scene that has stayed with me from a Greek movie about a bunch of young people trying to help the resistance during the Nazi Occupation. Every single one of them is portrayed to be genuinely invested and loving each other and their people, and the freedom they're fighting to regain.
At some point, they get captured, and subjected to torture in order to give up some important information. And they all endure at first: they love their cause more than they fear the whip. However, during the second or third round the torturer changed the method of duress, and threatened one of the young men to do what he was doing to the young man's mother.
The young man broke, and gave up the information: he loved his mother (or feared to watch her in pain, if you like) more than he loved the cause.
After all is said and done, and due to the information a big crackdown on some cells is successful, the group is released. They don't blame the young man for breaking, understanding him, even if all the others didn't break. However, he can't live with what he did, and throws himself off a window, killing himself: he still loved the cause. It's just that another love (or another fear) won out in that situation, and when left with the results, he couldn't go on.
This is of course an extreme and dramatic situation, but the tug of war between what we love and what we fear is a lot more pedestrian and daily than we might think- and the same goes for our characters:
Does your character still go to school even if he/she is bullied daily? Then there's something he/she loves more than the fear of the bullies (not necessarily within the school, but with relation to what going to school stands for).
Does your character refuse help he/she direly needs, in order to succeed on his/her own or not at all? Then they might love their pride more than the fear of failure.
Does your character conform to a clique they don't really like, emulating their dress code or mannerisms? Then they may fear rejection more than they love their own agency.
And so on and so forth.
Of course, this is the rough rule of thumb. The whys and the hows, and the more detailed delineation of how this love vs fear manifests and where it stems from, as well as how it develops (the character can grow out of a fear or a love) is the dressing, the flesh that comes to rest upon this skeleton we've just explored.
But as long as you keep it in mind, it will help you always have your finger on the pulse of your characters' hearts, even when they seem to be behaving inexplicably. Like your AVPU scale for motivation.
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, July 11, 2020
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