Layers of motivation

Everything in this lesson is about answering the question "Why?"

Specifically, "Why do characters do what they do, and want what they want?"

Sometimes the answer to this question is simple:

  • Why did you eat the donut?
  • Because I love donuts.


In this example, the want, goal, and motivation are practically the same thing:

  • Want: Donut.
  • Goal: Eat donut.
  • Motivation: Love donuts.

But sometimes you can ask why over and over before you hit that underlying emotional bedrock:

  • Why are you escaping the dungeon?
  • So I can assemble my squad.
  • Why do you want to assemble your squad?
  • So I can raid the palace.
  • Why do want to raid the palace?
  • So I can overthrow the usurper and restore the Queen.
  • Why do you want to restore the Queen?
  • Because I want to protect the system of hereditary monarchy.
  • Why do you want to protect hereditary monarchy?
  • Because that's the system that made me rich and I love social and financial stability! And I hate the usurper!

Not as simple as wanting a donut!

In that example, there are several nested goals and the motivation is not obvious. If we were to condense it to three points, starting from where the character is right now (in the dungeon):

  • Want: Out of the dungeon.
  • Goal: Restore the Queen.
  • Motivation: Feel rich and secure and get revenge on someone I hate.

You can see that each layer is very different in scale, and that the bedrock motivation is based on an emotional need.

There are a few big-picture takeaways from this:

  • Wants, goals, and motivations are not completely distinct things—they are all just ways of answering the question "Why are you doing that?"
  • The more you ask why, the deeper you go, and the more goals will start to sound like motivations.
  • But you know you've hit a bedrock motivation when you've hit an emotional driver or need.

So this has all been very interesting: we have deep emotional needs that trigger us to create all manner of goals, then we take action and...

Success! We achieve our goals! We win!

Unless something or someone gets in the way...