As long as I’ve read about writing, I’ve read about giving your characters their own unique motivations. I only recently got to the point where I really understood what that meant and was able to identify character motivations in other stories. I thought that I’d write a post about it to explain it in the way that I currently understand it and use the characters from Jurassic World as examples!
What is character motivation?
Character motivation is the desire and/or goal that a character has for themselves. This can be different than our goal for character. For example: Owen Grady (the character played by Chris Pratt) works as the “hero” character in the story. The writer’s goal for Owen to have him help save the day. Owen’s own goals (motivations), though, are to train the raptors, keep them from Vic Hoskins, and to protect the people on the island.
Why is character motivation important?
Character motivation is important on two levels.
- It creates more interesting characters, because the characters develop senses of selves. By having goals, they appear more human and, thereby, more relatable. Also, if I character’s motivations changes throughout the story, that shows character development.
- It creates a better plot by creating conflict between characters.
How is it be used in Jurassic World?
Take the leads of Jurassic World: Owen, Claire, Masrani, Vic, Gray, Zach, and Karen.
We’ve already gone over Owen’s motivations, so let’s do everyone else.
Claire’s motivation is to keep the park operating and growing by getting more investors and more tourists. Once the Indominus rex breaks out of its cage, her motivation is to contain it. As the movie progresses, her motivation switches to saving her nephews and killing the Indominus rex.
Masrani was the past owner of the park. His main motivations are to see how the park is doing and getting his pilot’s license. His motivation switches to containing or killing the Indominus rex as the movie progresses, but doing it in such a way that the park can stay in business.
Vic’s motivation is focused on using dinosaurs for military purposes. This is consistently his main motivation throughout the movie.
Gray and Zach are the two kids in the movie. Their motivations are somewhat similar. Gray wants to enjoy the dinosaurs and geek out in the park. Zach is motivated just to be away from his family and his girlfriend. Ultimately Zach’s motivation changes to protecting Gray, and they both try to help stop the Indominus rex in some capacity.
Karen, Gray and Zach’s mother, is focused on reconnecting her sons with her sister, Claire.
How the character motivations affect the movie:
One of the conflicts of the movie was the relationship between Karen and Claire. Karen wants Claire to interact with her children and become closer to the family again. Claire, instead, is more focused on making the park successful. The conflict arises when Claire doesn’t properly care for Gray and Zach when they’re in the park, and her sister finds out. Her neglect results in the boys being chased by one of the Indominus rex, and she had to go rescue them with Owen, which is one of the big plot points of the movie.
Another conflict is between Owen and Claire, who are obviously into each other, but due to conflicting personalities and priorities they don’t work as a couple. As the movie strips down their characters and give them a common motivation, they begin to grow closer together.
The biggest conflicts in the movie, though, result from the presence of the dinosaurs.
The first conflict is “how should dinosaurs be used?” Owen believes that dinosaurs are animals that should be respected and contained within the park where they can be closely supervised in healthy environments. Vic, on the other hand, believes that the dinosaurs, especially the raptors, could be used as foot soldiers in the military. The conflict results in how the raptors are treated in the movie and also what’s down the dinosaur dna when Vic reaches it first.
The second conflict is between keeping the park running and keeping the tourists safe. We’re told that, if the tourists and media find out that the park lost control of a dangerous dinosaur, it’s be closed for good. So the characters divide into factions. Masrani and Claire are in favor of keeping the news from the tourists in favor of trying to capture the dinosaur quietly. Owen is in favor of evacuating the visitors from the island so that they will be completely safe. The ultimate decision to not immediately warn the tourists on the island results in problems later on.
You can see, then, how character motivations play into the larger plot. They interact to create subplots and deepen the overall story.
How can I make character motivations?
Step outside of the plot of your story and ask yourself these questions about your character(s):
- What does my character want most in their life?
- What does my character want in the short term? In the long term?
- If my character could have their ideal ending to this story, what would it be? How does that differ from and seem similar to the ending I have in mind?
- How does my character’s motivation change over the course of the story?
Then look at the story as a whole and see how a character’s (or group of characters’) motivations influence the story by asking yourself these questions:
- Does this character’s motivation influence or oppose any other character’s motivation?
- How does my character’s motivations line up with the plot? With the subplot?
- Are there any character conflicts or plot conflicts I can create from these characters?
- How can I show this character’s motivation without telling the audience what their motivation is?
- How invested in their goal is my character? How easily are they swayed? If they can be swayed, what would it take make them change their motivation?
Using these questions, you can craft an outline of your story based mostly, if not totally, on character motivations.
I hope this helps, and if you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them below!