Motivation by LeAnne Bristow

Motivation is a common term among writers. Goal, Conflict and Motivation are the cornerstone of every good story. According to Wikipedia, motivation is the reason for people's actions, desires or needs.

You can make anything believable if you give your character a good enough reason to do what they do. Without proper motivation, characters come across as "Too Stupid To Live." Cue the cheesy horror flicks where the young, unarmed, half-naked girl goes outside to check out the weird sound she heard in the backyard, all the while knowing a serial killer is on the loose.

But it's not just writers who benefit from understanding motivation. After taking a class on motivation recently, I've been noticing motivation everywhere. From the little boy in my kindergarten class that steals extra snacks every day and hides in the bathroom to eat them to my husband texting me to let me know he had a late lunch and I don't need to cook a big supper. What makes people do what they do????

Some motivations are simple motivations to fulfill our basic needs. A child might steal food if he's hungry enough, even if he knows that it's wrong. But set aside Maslow's hierarchy of basic human needs. What drives you? If you are reading this blog, chances are you have adequate food and shelter, you are in an environment where you feel safe enough to browse the internet and read my ramblings. What is your goal in life? McClelland's Human Motivation Theory states that people are most often motivated by the need for power, affiliation or achievement.

Motivation can be, and usually is, a good thing. As a young adult, I was a bit of a wild-child. I was much more interested in partying in college than actually attending classes. Then my husband got sent to the Gulf War and I found myself alone and pregnant. What if something happened and he didn't make it back? How was I going to take care of myself and a baby? Suddenly, I couldn't afford to skip classes. While my friends were partying from dusk 'til dawn, I was hitting the books. I managed to graduate from college Magna Cum Laude, something I never would've done if I hadn't been motivated to make sure I could provide a better life for my baby girl if I was stuck being a single mother. *Achievement*

Sometimes motivation can a bad thing. In the case of my little snack thief, he's not motivated by hunger. He has plenty of food and everyone in my classroom knows that if they ask for more snack, I will give it to them. But asking me for snack is giving me control. He'd much rather steal it because then he controls when and what he eats. *Power*

For most of my married life, I would rush home from work and cook a big meal. This started back when my husband was an HVAC technician and worked outside in the desert heat all day. He would come home and be famished. Now he has an inside, desk job as a project manager for Homeland Security. It's not unusual for him to have to drive a contractor or government worker around to inspect various projects. They will stop to get a bite to eat somewhere and he gets home and announces that he's not hungry. I will stomp around the kitchen, throwing pots and pans around because I could've been writing instead of cooking. (By the way, I'm not sure what my motivation for that is, besides anger.) So now, my husband has learned that if he texts me before I get home from work and lets me know not to cook a big dinner, we both have a much nicer evening. *Affiliation*

It's nice to know that after 27 years of marriage, I'm finally getting him trained!

What motivates you?What motivates your characters? Do you think a person's overall motivation changes?

LeAnne is a small town girl who believes that all roads lead to romance. She loves stories that make her hold her breath waiting for that first kiss. If you like stories like that, then you'll get along just fine!
Get to know her by following her on Facebook and her author page.


  1. Yeah, good luck on that training... Great post, LeAnne!

  2. I've always thought Maslow's Theory was on the money. But I do think that as we grow, learn and extend that sometimes motivations change. I hope you're able to stop your little snack thief before he graduates to sneaking off with bigger things--like your automobile.

  3. Good reminders about the importance of realistic motivation in our characters, LeAnne. I also really liked your personal anecdotes as examples. Celebrating my 50 years of marriage this year, though, I have to say ‘some’ husband training has been accomplished but nowadays I’ve adopted the ‘don’t fret about the things you can’t change’ stance most times. :)

  4. So interesting, especially about your snack thief. I've been thinking about motivation lately, and about how people sometimes assigning motivations to others that have more to do with their own needs than the other person's. It's been a while since I looked at one of those charts. Thanks!

  5. Thanks--now you've got me wondering why the snack thief needs to feel that sense of power. That will be on my mind all day! I always liked the Maslow hierarchy because life is so different when surviving that day is the challenge, versus the luxury of another goal of our time, self-actualization.

  6. I think it's interesting when people fall in love and find their motives and goals changing because love puts their lives into a new perspective.

  7. This is so interesting. I was observing a child in a classroom the other day who's behavior is very 'off' and doing a lot of thinking about what his motivation was for behaving that way. His teacher and I came up with some theories and some ideas of how to (hopefully) help him behave in a more successful way. And I try to think of the motivation for every character in my stories, so their behavior rings true!

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  9. What an interesting topic. It's been a long time since Psych 101 but something about Maslow's hierarchy sticks with you. I most remember that Maslow thought very few people in history had achieved the highest tier. But he thought he had, lol. I haven't thought of directly applying this to my writing but now I want to go back through the latest book I'm working on to consider the main characters' motivations through this lens. Maybe the snack thief could help you pass out the snacks and exert his power in a positive way. He reminds me of myself, hiding in my closet to eat a dessert I don't want to share with my two young children, lol. "I'm still the boss," I whisper as I shove a Snicker's bar into my mouth. *Power*? lol

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