Explaining why

Sometimes characters or narrators simply explain why someone wants something.

For example, Malala Yousafzai's father set up something called "the Global Peace Council".


What was his goal, and what was his motivation?

Aside from corruption and bad government, my father's main concern in those days was the environment. Mingora was expanding quickly – around 175,000 people now called it home – and our once-fresh air was becoming very polluted from all the vehicles and cooking fires. The beautiful trees on our hills and mountains were being chopped down for timber. My father said only around half the town's population had access to safe drinking water and most, like us, had no sanitation. So he and his friends set up something called the Global Peace Council which, despite its name, had very local concerns. The name was ironic and my father often laughed about it, but the organisation's aim was serious: to preserve the environment of Swat and promote peace and education among local people.

  • This snippet opens by telling us exactly what motivates Malala's father: concern for the environment.
  • It then describes why her father has that feeling of concern.
  • It describes some of his behaviour in response.
  • And finally it links that feeling and behaviour to a goal: in this case, setting up the Council to promote peace and education among the local people.

Notice how the motivation is an emotion? Concern for the environment. 

Keep an eye on that when you look at the worked examples below.

Deshawn had always loved the wetland parks. He couldn't say why. They were just so different from the city. The light was different. Morning and dusk felt beautiful instead of bleak. There were more colors at those time of day, swirling off the leaves, the water, and clouds. The air moved gently; not like the wind tunnels of Fordham. And he loved the birds doing their business—the snipes, the rails, the grebes. So when he saw this big old Canada goose lying in the mud, its long black neck draped on the ground, looking glumly at its friends swimming in the water nearby, he knew he would stop at nothing to help it.

Putting out fires was Chief's second priority; his main concern was safety. "Every season, we have fighters die out there," he'd say. "Good men, women, and persons non-binary. Fit, smart, well-trained. But a tree falls the wrong way, the wind changes direction, heck we had one fella parachute directly onto a snake…" He'd carry on with his list of possible causes of death for a while, but it was always in the service of his real goal, which was to make everyone on the crew acutely aware of their own mortality, so that they would listen that much more carefully when he told them to take care.

Do you notice how the motivations in these snippets all have something to do with emotions?

Concern, love...

Our goals arise out of a need to satisfy deeper emotional needs, which are ultimately the underlying motivations.

You might even start to notice an etymological or word-history relationship between all the words below:

  • Motivation
  • Emotion
  • Motion
  • Move

They all share the "mo-" sound, which in ancient root of many languages means "to push away".

So embedded in our language is the idea that emotions push us into action.

In this lesson, you've written lots of variations about what your character wants.

For this activity, explain why they want it.

  • Tell us their emotional attitude.
  • Describe the reasons for that attitude.
  • Describe their behaviour in response.
  • Connect that to a larger goal.

If you think about it, this whole snippet could be structured with a formula like this:

  • I felt [emotion]...
  • ...because of [external reasons]...
  • ...so I [behaviour]...
  • ...in order to [larger goal].

If you think of your variation in those terms, everything should fall into place.

Write a variation that describes what motivates your character, and how that connects to a larger goal.

If motivation and emotion are entwined, how can you get the reader to not only see a character's motivation, but feel it too?