24
Jan
09

motives & motivation

The power of motive in a story is significant; in fact for murder mysteries it’s one of the Big Three (method, motive and opportunity) which you need to create a situation. There’s that number again, wonder if it’s significant? Anyway… going back to the previous post on characters (a series you say?) the motives driving a character can be connected to a number of things.

  • Achievement: Goals are a popular thing to have – whether the anguished cry of Austin Powers (“Twins. Basil. Twins.”) or Inigo Montoya’s quest for vengeance in The Princess Bride, these are things which can drive a character into action. Tangible items can also be included (after all, why are those heroes killing monsters and taking their stuff?) in this.
  • Association:If you are part of a group, then you may have duties to perform. If you’re very sweet on someone, you’ll do things to be with them. Conflicts between associations can give a character depth and fragility. The power of association can also use hatred as much as love – witness Frankenstein and his creation.
  • Principles: Whether religion, ethics, morality or the need to do something; the ideals of an individual help shape their actions, possessions and personality. These principles may be mutable or inflexible according to the character and their (or other’s) needs and will lead to the character facing some hard choices.
  • Power: A commodity everyone wishes they have and the essence of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Be it the earnest young Jedi trying to raise an X-Wing with the power of his mind or the vengeance of an old gunslinger on a town full of racist murderers, these stories give a sense of catharsis for those who experience the same frustrations.
  • Taboo: Not all motivations are positive; some are lines that must not be crossed or rituals to stop something hideous happening. Others are screens behind which people hide their associations or achievements in secret for fear of censure. These may have been imprinted by friends, family or associations.

Aristotle’s Poetics notes that internal desires conflict with the external world in order to realise the character. Romeo and Juliet are lovers divided by a feud between the Capulet and Montagu families. A setting where intrigue and betrayal is rife may lead to the most precious thing being friendship. Which in a setting rife with betrayal may be incredible – or merely ironic.

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