The One Thing All Stories Need

“Julia, how do I make my story longer?”

I look up from my book, a mug of coffee resting at my hand. “Longer?” I repeat.

My younger sister, Christina, nods. “I’m almost at the end, but I’m not sure if it should be longer or not.” She heads over to the computer, popping it open.

I trail after her, coffee in hand. “How long is it? In words,” I add.

“It’s about six thousand.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s about this girl who has to defeat a dark overlord.”

“And where are you at?”

“I’m almost at the climax. It’s my best story idea yet, so I want it to be good.”

I pause, mulling over this information while taking a sip of coffee. Finally, I say, “I’m going to tell you something. It’s one thing that, by adding it, will instantly improve your entire story and revolutionize your writing.”

Christina stares.

“Length doesn’t matter,” I tell her. “It’s all about the character motive.”


This was a conversation I had with my sister a week ago. After it happened, I knew that I had to write a blog post on the subject. Let’s dive right in.

Who is this Post for?

Just to be clear: there are more advanced writers out there who might be working on things like character arcs and internal change and whatnot; this post is geared toward beginner writers who are just starting out and are looking for something that will help improve their writing.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s really get into this post.

What is Character Motive?

Character motive is why. It’s why they do anything.

In Toy Story, for example, Woody doesn’t like Buzz very much. Why? He’s afraid of losing Andy’s love. This motivates all his actions.

Source
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Character motive instantly adds depth to your character, making them seem more human and real.

Motive can be a little tricky to nail down, so for a beginning writer, I actually would recommend simplifying it even more. The only way to learn something is to try doing it. So, I’d recommend trying to write a story while focusing on character goals.

Character Goals

A character goal is what the character wants in the story. This is not “I’m going to save the world just because someone told me to!” Face it, we’ve all written stories like that before, and they kind of sucked.

Source | Writers living in denial…

When I first began to write seriously, my first series of books was on some kids who were called Changelings – beings with magical powers. Because I obviously didn’t know that such things already existed in lore. The whole point of the story was for them to defeat some evil Shadow Changelings – but I never gave them any real point. Literally, all of book 2 was just them going from world to world, finding other Changelings and them all being like, “Sure, I’ll help you.”

…for no reason.

Source | Me @ My Past Self

The next book I wrote was The Triad of Caosdif. Something I didn’t realize at the time of writing it was that I had managed to accidentally do something that instantly improved my book.

I gave my characters a goal.

To make my point of how much just doing that much can help, it was literally just to get to a mountain. The reason this was a better goal than “defeat the evil people just because” is that it was more personal.

Making things Personal

The story is told through the eyes of the character. If you can get the reader to care about the character, then they will care about whether or not they achieve their goal. This will further invest them into the story, and into the character, keeping them reading until the end. A goal that does not matter to the character for personal reasons will feel detached and boring – and the reader will lose interest.

To make things personal, we circle back to the point of character motive. This is the point were we just start asking why? Why do they want that thing? Why is that their goal? The because is where the motive lies.

Why did my character want to go to the mountain?

Because she was almost killed by her evil brother and needed a place to escape so she could train.

Not the most glorious of origin stories, but give me a break; I was, like, 13.

Note: motives can extend beyond just surface reasons. In earlier stories, as you being trying to work with character goals, it would be easier to stick to just that, but later on, you can move into the delightful territory of internal conflict. The motive becomes more potent if it is internal. That makes it even more personal to the character.

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If you give the character a personal goal, that does numerous other things as well for the good of the story.

It gives it direction, first off. That was what really helped The Triad of Caosdif. No matter what the characters were doing, they were always doing every action with that mountain in mind. How will this help them get to the mountain? What is the next thing they have to do to get there without getting caught?

The end goal was the mountain. Everything was headed straight toward it. That helped cut down on potential meandering in the plot. (that’s not to say there wasn’t any there, because there definitely was 😅 But still, it really helped!)

It also stopped writer’s block from striking.

Character Goal VS Writer’s Block

Have you ever gotten stuck as to what should happen next in your story? Not sure what the character should do next?

Adding a character goal can almost completely eliminate that in an instant.

When you don’t know what to do next, just think of what the character needs to do next to gain that goal. What is their next step to getting it? Once you know, do it.

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Character Goal and Plot Line

The last point I’m going to make is on how great character goals are is by mentioning plot line.

If you want a plot, you need conflict.

A lot of the time, new writers depend upon external conflict.

But as great as that is and all, it’s even better to include internal conflict. Here’s how you do that by including a character goal:

  1. You figure out who this character is.
  2. You figure out what their goal is.
  3. You place obstacles in their way.

And that’s all there is to it! Suddenly, you’ve got conflict personalized to the character themselves that they’re up against. This will draw the reader in even more as well, because the character’s goal is being threatened.


Character motive instantly revolutionizes a story. Adding in a personal character goal that has internal motivation will immediately up your writing game. 😎

Don’t forget to save this post for later!

Don’t sweat about getting everything perfect on your first try; the only way you’ll get better at it is by writing it. Try giving your characters a goal, and then watch them try and pursue it during the story.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

The Inciting Incident: The Point of No Return… Or Is It?

Character Problems: Not Making Things Personal from Day 1

How Just One Paragraph Could Revolutionize Your Writing


If you want more awesome writing tips, make sure to subscribe! You’ll get a free 7-day course on how to defeat writer’s block butt, emails with exclusive insider info, and the monthly password to my Resources page! 😃  Can’t wait to see you on the inside!

What books have you read that included character goals or motives?

Have you ever written a story with character goals in it?

Are you going to make one for your character?

-Julia

Photo by Tim Fosteron Unsplash

9 thoughts on “The One Thing All Stories Need

    1. It took me a long time to realize that as a writer, so I’m glad that I could share that with you 😃 Thank you! Glad you liked it!

      Thank you for the nominations 😃

      Like

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