Motivation. This is the driving force in any good story. The protagonist has to be motivated to do the THING.
If the protagonist isn’t motivated, they won’t do the THING. Or if they do the THING but aren’t motivated, the story won’t make a lick of sense.
There are plenty of ways to give your protagonist motivation, plenty of ways to make it believable, and plenty of blogs written on the subject. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.
I want to talk about how “obvious and spelled out” the protagonist’s motivation needs to be.
HERE WE GO. *JUMPS OFF AIRPLANE*
Frodo never gave a big speech on all the reasons he has to take the Ring to Mordor. He just got up and said he will take it. We get pieces of why he would take the Ring, but never a full picture.
In the first Captain America movie, Steve Rogers never gives a full spiel on why he wants to join the army. We get pieces along the way. He takes on a bully. He mentions his parents are dead. He says he is not going to sit in a factory while men are laying down their lives.
In neither of these stories is the motivation fully put together. It may not even be fully put together for the character themselves. They may not know why they do things. And that’s good. Why?
BECAUSE REAL PEOPLE DON’T HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER.
So character themselves do not have to fully understand why they do things. We real life people do that all the time. We do something and don’t always fully understand why we did it. It’s not because we don’t have motivation, it’s just that we don’t understand our motivation.
A character comes in and says, “My motivation to do the THING is to avenge my dead daughter.” Nothing more. You know what that feels like? Contrived and fake.
Because no one does anything to just avenge their daughter. No one does anything for one single, perfect reason. (Ok maybe some people do, but that’s a very pure line of focus.)
So, he wants to avenge his daughter. Why?
1: He feels like he failed. He couldn’t save her.
2: He has anger management issues.
3: He wants to prove himself to his estranged wife.
4: He feels like he’s been a fat, lazy idiot his whole life.
Because here’s the thing: Book protagonists go and do things that people normally wouldn’t do. They go to the extreme, take deathly risks, etc.
You know that scene in the Patriot when Benjamin Martin goes to save Gabriel after he was captured by the British?
Benjamin Martin starts chopping a man to pieces with his tomahawk.
Well, you don’t do that if your only motivation is to save your son. There’s obviously other issues going on.
I’m bringing this all up because the book I’m reading right now. (I’m not disclosing the title because I’m not finished, and you can’t fully judge a book without finishing it). The protagonist is trying to help someone that in the past saved his daughter’s life (who later died as a child).
And honestly, I’m kinda not believing it.
It’s a thriller, so it involves malicious plots, scary people, people getting beat up and captured, high security military complexes, and magicians. This is some serious stuff the protagonist is getting into to just pay off a debt.
He’s also a mortician and not a secret agent so…
Now, here’s the thing. There could yet be a hidden motivation, something the protagonist can’t even name. I’m hesitant to believe there is, because the protagonist has been so outward with why he is doing this. He tells everyone and has repeated it to himself waaaay too many times.
It’s amazing that someone could make a decision super fast, know exactly why they are doing it, and do it for one, single purpose.
Especially when it means breaking the law and putting your life in danger.
(And by amazing I mean illogical.)
So what do YOU think? What makes motivation believable to you?
Oh, and here’s a bunny gif I promised someone.