In any story, it is essential to identify and promote a character’s motivation. Readers and movie watchers get upset (or confused) when a character does something for no apparent reason. Let’s write a basic example. Bob kisses Sally. In our society, kissing somebody is a big deal. This meaning behind this simple gesture can range from a timid expression of friendship to a hostile attack.
The problem with the above example is that the reader has no context. Was bob messing around? Did he love Sally, and this is his first attempt to express his desire? Or is Bob crazy? The fundamental question is: what is Bob’s motivation to kiss Sally?
For this blog, I wanted to go over the motivation types and then explain why they are not always correct. To do this, I did a bit of research and found the following site:
This motivation is a core part of our personality: money, sex, power, and control. If you work for me, I will give you food.
This motivation is a bit sneaky. We try to keep what we have.
Hitting Rock Bottom
A tripping point occurs where we force ourselves to make changes.
A basic desire to make ourselves better.
Maintaining a Positive Self-Image.
People have an extreme desire to fit in and feel good about themselves. This is why we give money to homeless people. Teenagers live in a world fill with this motivation.
There is a primal part of us that has to prove we are correct.
What is inside the mystery box? Curiosity drives us to do crazy, dangerous, and stupid things. The opposite of curiosity is boredom or disengagement.
People like to feel in control and will do anything to stay in control.
People like to blend in with their peers. For example, when people feel threatened, they are much more responsive to negative information.
We care about other people’s opinions and desire their respect.
Getting even is an enormous driving factor in life and story. I wrote an entire blog on this motivation, and it was the inspiration for this blog.
We do things better over here.
It is an honor to follow the golden path (or at least what people tell us is the golden path.)
Sometimes, we do not understand what we are doing, and we can blunder into situations.
Now that we have the motivation framework, I wanted to share two actual events that do not fit into the neat boxes. When my father attended High School, the girls began leaving lipstick kiss marks on the bathroom mirrors.
The principal sent home letters, had an assembly to discuss the matter, posted people to the bathroom, offered incentives to stop, posted the names of girls that were caught, and threatened to close the bathroom. Looking at the above list, we see: External Incentives, Avoiding Losses, Intrinsic Motivation, and Maintaining a Positive Self-Image.
What is the girls motivation to continue? Maintaining a Positive Self-Image, Current Mood, Other People, Revenge (on the authority who wants them to stop them), and Curiosity.
The efforts failed, and the kissing continued. As a last desperate measure, the principal rounded up “the usual suspects” into the bathroom and had them watch how much effort it took to remove the marks. The janitor soaked his sponge into the toilet and then proceeded to clean off the marks. The principal had not been aware of the cleaning method.
The girls were horrified, and the marks stopped. What was their motivation? That is difficult to pin down. Perhaps Avoiding Losses (maintaining good health) fits that bill. This is an unconventional motivation, and this type of motivation is unlikely to occur in a book or movie. Why? It is too complicated and esoteric.
About 15 years ago, I was working at a company that had a location in the high desert. A miserable remote place that nobody wanted to drive to. As a result, the employees who worked there every day felt they could do whatever they wanted because they were impossible to replace.
I occasionally had to go there to perform tests. While I had a friendly relationship with those employees, they let me know that I was a small fish in their big pond. As a result, they had a lazy attitude, and an hour-long test took days for them to set up.
To help the situation, I bought them lunch and doughnuts. Whenever they had a question for me, I instantly helped them out. What else could I have done? My only option was to go to my boss and have him go to their boss. Others unsuccessfully tried this approach.
I accepted my fate and began bringing books to read while they took their time to set things up. One day I brought up a company laptop to record data. Because of security, I could not connect it to their network and do my regular work. I brought along a DVD, and I began watching Shrek in an unused conference room.
Word quickly spread, and soon, 20 people were watching Shrek on my tiny laptop screen. The boss heard about my overt act, stormed in yelling. I explained that I had been on-site at 7:00 am, and the guys had not set things up for my test. I then explained that I could not do any of my work because of their network security policy. He blew up and yelled more. I countered, “What do you want me to do?” He yelled, “Turn off your damn movie.” “And do what? Stare at the walls?” We went around and around. Then he asked the guys why they had not been ready at the scheduled time. When they came up with terrible excuses, he blew up at them.
Result? I got my test done. After that, I brought a laptop and a DVD. The guys pleaded for me not to turn it on. Of all the possible motivations, Shrek proved to be the most lethal. How crazy is that? What is the basis of this motivation? Avoiding Losses? Not wanting the boss to yell at them? Umm, I guess.
The real motivation is that the boss did not want his boss to find out about his guys slacking off. He is Shrek’s true target. Still, the logic for this is not a straight line.
Life is not always as simple as a plot. People are vastly complex and also basic. We often take the path of least resistance and behave without logic. And yet, a book requires an obvious solid motivation to move the plot along. I find it interesting that the two are not identical.
You’re the best -Bill
July 01, 2020
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