When I wake up every day, my motivation is to get out of bed, get school/work done, and talk to my friends. And, hopefully, to get some writing done! Pretty much everyone has some kind of motivation – whether that’s to succeed at school/work, spend time with their family, etc.
And in fiction, motivation is VERY important. Without it, where would any novel go?
Take Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, for example. Early into the book, Percy discovers he’s a demigod – the son of a Greek god and a mortal mother. His mortal mother is captured by another god, who thinks Percy stole something of his. Percy’s motivation is to get his mother back, no matter the cost.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss’ motivation is to keep her family fed and safe. When her sister’s name is reaped for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers so that her sister isn’t harmed – even if that means that Katniss will probably die. She loves her sister and wants what’s best for her.
Now, both of their motivations change over time, but still keep the same core – they want to protect someone. Percy eventually ends up at the center of a prophecy that could change the world, and Katniss at the heart of a rebellion. But both Percy and Katniss want to protect their families, their friends, and the people around them.
This is a value.
Both Katniss and Percy value their friends and families – their relationships, if you will. So their motivations largely center around their values.
Values and motivations often go hand in hand. I value spending time with my friends, so I’m motivated to do whatever I can to spend time with them. I value (and love!) my dog, Ruby, so I’m motivated to keep her fed and happy.
In fiction, there are (in my opinion) two types of values: motivational values (which form my motivations), and personal values (which can also be translated to beliefs.)
To take my life as an example, again: my motivational values include my family, friends, etc. And my personal values include intersectional feminism, fighting for what I believe in, etc.
Both motivations and values share something in common: they drive a character – any character – to do something. Whether that’s to lead the rebellion and fight a tyrannical empire, lead an army against an evil titan, or get out of bed in the morning, they’re important because they give characters a reason to do something.
They make a character three-dimensional.
Whether this character’s a villain, a hero, a love interest, or even the hero’s parents or a sidekick, every character should have some form of motivation – and along with it, values.
Sometimes, of course, motivations can be shared across a group of characters. In the comics/tv show series Runaways, the entire team’s motivation is to take down their evil parents. They also have other motivations – in the show, for example, Nico’s is to discover what happened to her sister. Molly’s is to feel included by her friends and her sister.
In the Netflix/Dreamworks show, Voltron: Legendary Defender, everyone in the crew shares a motivation: to defeat the Galra Empire. On the side, you have Allura, who’s motivation is to get vengeance for the Altean people, who were all killed by the Galra Empire. And Keith’s is to find out about his history and lineage, which includes finding out he’s part Galra. And then Pidge’s is to find out what happened to her dad and brother, and to find them.
Again: motivations are important, especially in fiction!
To gratuitously self promote my wip, every character has a motivation. One of the main characters, Riley, wants to save her parents and sister. While her brother, Josiah, shares the same motivation, he also wants to discover his lineage. And Ailsa’s motivation is to show her mother that she’s entirely capable of doing things on her own.
While these motivations don’t really tell you much about the characters, they also do at the same time. If someone’s motivation is to destroy the world, what does that say about them? Probably that they’re a pretty evil person. If someone’s motivation is to get into the best college possible, that probably says that they’re a smart person or at least value intelligence.
However… those motivations can also say something else. The person who wants to destroy the world could be motivated to do so in order to destroy an evil eldritch monster in the core of the Earth. The person who wants to get into the best college possible might just want to be accepted by their family members.
Which is where values come in.
That second person’s motivational and/or personal value could be acceptance. Or it could be intelligence. Or it could be something else entirely. And that first person’s, the world destroyer’s, could be power, or saving people. Who knows?
So yeah, values and motivations are important.
See you next time, where I plan to give out a list of some possible motivations and values beyond the ones mentioned here!