What Motivates Your Main Character?


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Without a doubt, the main character is one of the most important people in any book. She's the person who takes up the fight against the villain, and ultimately changes the world. Main characters are so important that writers spend hours filling in character questionnaires, trying to get inside their heads and understand them better. But, in all those hours of getting to know these characters, there is one thing I often forget to think about amid all the questions about favourite foods, eye colour and best friends. What motivates the main character to want to stop the villain?

It seems simple enough. She's the main characters, so obviously she has to go and stop the villain. That’s her role in the book. The important question isn’t whether she's going to try and stop the villain, it’s why. Why is she willing to do that? What makes her leave her normal life to stop the bad guy? This is something I often forget to consider in the first drafts of my books. Without knowing about the main character’s motivation, it’s hard to really connect them to the rest of the plot in a solid way.

The main character’s motivation is often linked to something from their past, and can have connections to the villain’s plans in the book. In character questionnaires, writers are often asked about significant events in the character’s past, and these are often good places to look for motivation. In my book, The Dragon Thief, the main character’s motivation is simple. Maya is a thief who has been imprisoned for a ridiculously long amount of time for thieving, which is in her past. She is motivated by the promise of freedom, if she stops the villain, which connects her to the villain’s plans. But finding the motivation isn’t always as straightforward as that.

I struggled for a long time to work out why Briar, the main character of my other fantasy novel The Crystal Tree, would take on the villain. At first glance, there seemed to be no reason for her to fight the bad guy. The only connection they had was that they were both magicians, and they hadn’t even met before. Then I investigated Briar’s backstory and things started to fall into place. My villain kidnaps children for part of his evil plan, including Briar’s sister. Briar wants to save this sister, and so goes after her. She is willing to defeat the villain to get her sister back. However, she wouldn’t be motivated to do this if she hadn’t lost the rest of the family before the book started, which made her very over protective of her only surviving family. So she too has motivation that is connected to the villain’s plans and her own past.

Character motivations are very important to the success of a story. If I don’t know what motivated my main character, then the plot doesn’t fit together properly. But, by working out what motivated her to leave her normal life and take up the fight against the villain, the plot makes more sense, and it's much easier to fix plot holes and piece together a logical plot.

What motivates your main character? Do forget to think about character motivations like me? Who is your favourite main character?

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