Sunday, August 11, 2013

Motivation

I almost took a break from working on my novel. I was having trouble keeping my characters confined to themselves. They were sort of heaping over into each other's personalities, and it felt like it was becoming quite the mess. I figured it was because I was attempting to write for eight important characters. I haven't attempted throwing them all in the same scene or anything, but keeping track of who's who and would say what is difficult when you've got that many multi-dimensional people walking and talking in your head. I have a new respect for those that write television shows focused on many characters, even if they have the benefit of working with other writers.

I did actually take a break, I guess. I put down my thoughts on my novel and started a Science Fiction story about a private investigator that takes place in the same world my Fantasy story does, just hundreds of years after the events my novel will record. I thought my problem was the number of characters, so I started by limiting myself to a first person perspective, locking the story down in my detective's head. That was pretty refreshing, but as I started thinking about his motivation a seed of realization was planted in the fertile ground that is the back of my head.

I got into thinking about the details of my futuristic world (of which most had been established beforehand) and thought on the motivation of robot characters. What motivates robots without A.I.? With A.I.? With A.I. and human imposed restrictions or coded in personality traits? Then, what motivates people in general? I tracked down a nice Wikipedia article that I had read before, and looked at Professor Steven Reiss' sixteen base motivators that drive nearly all of human behavior.


  • Acceptance, the need for approval
  • Curiosity, the need to learn
  • Eating, the need for food
  • Family, the need to raise children
  • Honor, the need to be loyal to the traditional values of one's clan/ethnic group
  • Idealism, the need for social justice
  • Independence, the need for individuality
  • Order, the need for organized, stable, predictable environments
  • Physical activity, the need for exercise
  • Power, the need for influence of will
  • Romance, the need for sex and for beauty
  • Saving, the need to collect
  • Social contact, the need for friends (peer relationships)
  • Social status, the need for social standing/importance
  • Tranquility, the need to be safe
  • Vengeance, the need to strike back and to compete


  • Cool. I sifted through those and strained out some motivations I didn't want my robots to possess. I wouldn't say it's a perfect list, but it was good enough to get me thinking, to get me on the right track (or down the right river channel). That was fun, educational, and pretty productive in and of itself, but what it led to was what truly made it worthwhile.

    I matched my detective and his partner up with these motivations. Then, having enjoyed that, I matched the characters from my Fantasy novel with these motivations. They would get at least one, sometimes two, and occasionally three if they were a particularly complex character. All except my main character. I couldn't nail him down with a figurehead motivation at all. Bam. That was my problem. It's not that I was having too much difficulty with the number of characters (though I still admit it's not the easiest [and maybe not the smartest] thing for me to do), it was that I was having difficulty dealing with an ill-defined character who would change depending on the supporting cast.

    So, I really started thinking about it. What drives this character? Then, what drives me? This character is meant to be a pretty close reflection of who I am, closer than the other characters, maybe if I can sort out what motivates me, I could transfer that to him. Turns out that wasn't easy for me to do. I put that thought on hold and started thinking about the people that surround me. What motivates (or at least appears to) them? I could do that no problem. So, I brought it up to them. Asked them what they thought their motivations were, and then asked what motivation they would say defines me best. They didn't have too easy of a time with it. That made me feel better, but at the same time ill-defined myself.

    I brought it up with my family after church. Also not easy, but some of the things they said matched with the group I spoke with the night before. Unfortunately, both groups said things that weren't too compatible. I'm still lost, though I guess not everyone is going to be easily defined with a single, or even three of these motivations. Again, real people are more complex than characters, which kind of sucks.

    Still, it was very neat to look at a character and see a shared issue in construction. I've temporarily given him the motivation of Romance, but only because the story granted that easily. I think giving him that motivation has distanced him from me, which is alright, but is a little disappointing. I might have to look to my space detective to carry the flag of my fictional face, which might suit me better than a woodworker with an animate sword.