Are You Motivated?

By Joe Moore

For most novelists, one of the easiest things to come up with is an idea for a story. It seems that intriguing ideas swirl around us like cell phone conversations—we just use our writer’s instinct to pull them out of the air and act upon them.

The next step is to develop our characters and stitch together the quilt of a plot that will sustain our story for 100k words. And right up front, we must consider what plot motivation will drive the story and subsequently the characters. Fortunately, there are many to choose from.

So what is a plot motivator? It’s the key ingredient that provides drama to a story as it helps move the plot along. Without it, the story becomes static. And without forward motion, there’s little reason to read on.

Here is a list of what’s considered the most common plot motivators.

Ambition: Can you say Rocky Balboa.

Vengeance: Usually an all-encompassing obsession for revenge such as in The Man In The Iron Mask.

The Quest: Lord Of The Rings is a great example as is Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

Catastrophe: A disaster or series of events that proves disastrous like in The Towering Inferno.

Rivalry: Often powered by jealousy. Remember Camelot?

Love/Hate: Probably the most powerful motivator in any story.

Survival: The alternative is not desirable. Think Alien.

The Chase: A key element in numerous thrillers including The Fugitive.

Grief: Usually starts with a death and goes downhill from there.

Persecution: This one has started wars and created new nations.

Rebellion: There’s talk of mutiny among the HMS Bounty crew.

Betrayal: Basic Instinct. Is that boiled rabbit I smell?

You can easily find a combination of these in most books especially with a protagonist and antagonist being empowered for totally different reasons. But the global plot motivator is usually the one that kick starts the book and moves it forward. Which ones have you used in your books? Which are your favorites? Are there any you avoid and why?

Coming Wednesday, September 9: Forensic specialist and thriller author Lisa Black will be our guest.


8 thoughts on “Are You Motivated?

  1. Good reminder, Joe. You mentioned one of my favorite movies to teach from, The Fugitive. The Chase has the highest of stakes: if the innocent man is caught, he’ll be executed for a crime he did not commit. Then, of course, Dr. Kimble has his own chase to conduct, to find the one armed man. Gives the film a double-whammy, which is why it works so well.

  2. Not Basic Instincts, but Fatal Attraction.

    Basic Instincts might fall into either Sex or Obsession, though.

    Word verification: fockis

  3. Thanks, Jim. The Fugitive is still one of my favorite movies, especially the drainage scene and the famous “I don’t care” line.

    Mark, you’re right. Thanks for catching that. Certainly, both stories are powered by plenty of motivation.

  4. A sense of duty, which leads the character to get involved then take up the chase which may become vengeful, but will certainly end loud and violent.

  5. Lets not forget that ol’ chestnut: Redemption. I guess redemption could be slotted under other one or more of your other motivations, but I like me a good redemptive story.

  6. Now if you’re looking for a motivated movie there’s a great, yet little known, one titled “Savior” with Dennis Quaid. Vengence, meets chase, meets redemption.

    Gut wrenchingly sad, but really really well done.

  7. Thanks for the movie tip, Basil. I’ll put it on my Netflix list.

    Redemption is a good one, too, Mark, although it might be one that emerges after the story is underway. But I agree, it’s a good mainstay motivation for emotional prose.

  8. My main motivation is retribution/revenge, and I usually mix it with a little bit of redemption (that’s for you Mark Combs). To me it seems to add more passion to the story when the reasonings are emotional. A reader can identy easily with those emotions, especially if they’ve ever been hurt/made angry or feel that an injustice has been committed against them. I do try to avoid the whole political thing, I guess I fell that I don’t know enough about it.

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