1. mickaneso
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    mickaneso Member

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    What drives the human heart?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by mickaneso, Jul 21, 2012.

    I think this is the most important thing about a character. It's the thing that controls their deepest motives that can conflict with the plot. Not only that but it's something that can change and still remain so strong and compelling. I have came up with about 25 different ones but I'm just wondering if I'm missing any obvious ones.


    Family is a big one. I once met a young girl who told me everything she did, she did for her nephew. I'm sure in reality it's not quite extreme but I know that there are plenty of people like that. Fathers and mothers working late shifts to provide for their children. Their families drive them, they're what give them that inner strength to take almost anything tomorrow will throw at them.

    Anger and Revenge are big ones used
    Patriotism
    Religion
    Employment
    Money
    A legacy
    Pride
    Self improvement
    Guilt
    An ambition
    Love

    All things that I think we can make idealism about and base our whole life chasing that, to me it's what makes characters most compelling and I'd like to get as wide a variety as possible. Just wondering can you name any that drive you every day or the people around you? Even if it's listed already I just want to get an idea which really are the most powerful and relatable.
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    An idea.

    You've listed the obvious ones - but those are only guidelines. If you strip them down like this , you have a kind genre thinking.
    Sort of like a character fill-out page and you've slotted down emerald green eyes. Not to say that this isn't an interesting
    question it's perked my interest. But if I'm to think of what drives my heart it doesn't fit so easily into a slot - it's multifacted.

    Take Love for instance - the mere mention of it seems to assume the reader knows what it means,
    but does he? For some, love could be an empty word , a noose , an obligation.

    Some of the best conflict I've read in books haven't been about love as in a love triangle - but the notion of
    love itself and what love means to the character.
     
  3. mickaneso
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    mickaneso Member

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    I get it that I'd have to make the concept more concrete and personal to the character. I just want more of those vague concepts that you can sum up in a few words, because I think the interesting concrete information stems from a lot of thinking through what the vague concept could mean to you or your character. Like you gave with the example of love. Very vague but once you really put your head to it and think about what it really means to you without being cliche and just being honest you can start to get some interesting motivations going.
     
  4. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    Respect. Many people do what they do in order to earn the respect of people they value.

    Parental imperatives.
    This is a form of pursuing respect: trying to live up to the ideas inculcated by one's parents, for fear of disappointing them, or dishonoring their memory, if they've already died.

    Tradition. This is the way it has always been done, and the character feels an emotional attachment to the traditions of the culture which raised him or her.

    At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I think it's important to keep in mind that these motivations tend to intersect, and aren't discrete. I enlisted in the Air Force in part because I love my country and wanted to serve it, in part because I was footloose and wanted to get back to a traveling lifestyle, in part because I needed a job, and in part because my family has a tradition of serving the country.

    It seems to me that the more these basic motivations intersect in a character's intentions, the deeper will be his passion for a given planned action.
     
  5. ZenStitcher
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    ZenStitcher New Member

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    One might take a step back from all of those things and call them "a search for meaning or purpose." We humans have a pesky need to have things make sense, or be for a purpose. It drives a lot more of our behaviors than one might think at first glance.

    A mediocre character might be driven by the guilt of having survived a massacre, for instance. A memorable character, on the other hand, perhaps discovers that it's not guilt so much as the desire for that survival to mean something -- anything -- in the context of the setting.

    It hearkens back to the "idealism" you mentioned in that sense, put pegs it into the nuts and bolts of what makes us able to relate to that character in a very real way.
     
  6. mickaneso
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    mickaneso Member

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    The 3 you mentioned are really good ones. Especially tradition which seems to be a very important one that skipped my mind. What you said about them intersecting makes sense and is good advise. Sometimes I'm not sure whether to intersect these sort of things in a character because when it happens too many times sometimes I feel like the character is too complex for me to even know them anymore. And I'm never sure if I'm making my character sort've crazy and bi polar with too many personality traits. Or should I keep one and just go with a theme because a lot of stories seem to sort of have themes of fear or anger. The Batman series would be one worth mentioning seeing as it is Batman week afterall where Bruce Wayne sort of starts off with the main theme being fear that turns into anger that evolves into responsibility (which seems like a common heroes journey but I like the principal).

    I'm just wondering if it's done well though can it be memorable. Say a character has sort of self destructive tendancies in younger life that distances them from friends and family very gradually and even drives them to do other regretable things (things that seemed not so bad at the time) and you build guilt like that rather than it being through one event.
     
  7. simina
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    simina Senior Member

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    What about hedonism?
     
  8. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    There's a point where a character gets too complex, or dense, and it begins to interfere with the story. But I don't find single-motive characters very interesting, or even convincing, myself, because most people are not that simplistic in real life. It also depends on your story, too -- its settings, and premises, will tell you much about its characters, particularly the secondary characters who will be filling out your world.
     
  9. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    Note that you're ascribing "motive" as emotional and heartfelt. It doesn't have to be emotional or deeply felt in order to be significant. A good way to start is by assigning motives as external and internal.

    External Motives

    (Job) - The character must do their job in order to continue having a means of income. In this aspect, it's not related to any inner self-actualization. It's more mundane. The goal is to "not fail", not to do the job to the best of their ability. And, the punishment for failing is removing something beneficial, not directly applied punishment like imprisonment. For instance, the jobs held by the characters in the movie "Clerks." They're just jobs and, while they are very motivated to continue performing them, they aren't closely held to "heart." This sort of motivation is a theme that is played with a lot of irony in the movie.

    (Contract) - The character must fulfill the obligations of a contract or face official sanction and discipline. It could be the terms of a divorce decree, a restraining order, a custody agreement, an illegal drug shipment, etc.. In any event, the goal is "not failing" and the threat of punishment is immediate and severe. A dope smuggler trying to fulfill the "contract" of delivering the goods, or being faced with the punishment of death, while also trying to evade the punishment of the "social contract" of the Law could be an example of this.

    (Social/Socially Structural) - The character feels that they must achieve social recognition or increased standing for its own benefit, not some internalized rationalization. For instance, they must rise in social rank in order to access a further goal that is internalized, like becoming head of a Charity organization so they can later embezzle the funds. The means serve the ends, here, and the means are not internalized.

    (Coercive)]/i] - A catchall. Here, it's for something that would be more direct than the above and would usually reflect the character's values relating to something external if non-compliance occurs. If they don't do X, then Y will happen and the cause of that will be an external force.

    etc..

    Internal Motives

    (Self Actualization) - The character longs to define themselves surrounding a certain goal. That could be being "A Doctor." Nothing about the profession has to matter, it could just be the title the character longs for. Though, that's not as strong. The character may wish to define themselves totally by the title, living their life to serve people in need, being seen as a competent and dedicated professional who acts as a good steward of the health of their patients, etc.. Even the social standing of "Doctor" could also come into play. Whatever the aspect of the profession, the character reaches self-actualization, the understanding of themselves and their place in the Universe, entirely around being "A Doctor" in this example.

    (Love) - Yeah, this is starting to read like a Maslow's Hierarchy, but it's worth mentioning in this bullet form, nonetheless. The character is pursuing a love interest with all the volumes worth of interpretation from poetry, prose, music and art that entails.

    (Survival) - The Goal is to not die. It's primal, it's immediate and it's very personal. Though, surviving long enough to save others could be an additional motivation, even if ultimate survival isn't the main concern. A soldier delivering cover fire from an exposed position so that his buddies can escape would be an example of that. A man desperately trying to tread water for as long as he could would be an example of a more primal motivation to survive. What sort of motivations would occur to that man as he tread water for the first few minutes? The next couple of hours? The last few minutes of his life? In the end, what would he be struggling to achieve in his last few seconds? That'd make a nice story! (I think I'll write a short on that one.)

    (Revenge) - Here, revenge serves nothing but gratification that the act itself would bring to the character. Yes, it will be acted out upon a third party and that third party may even affect the cause. But, here, there's no higher calling, no other principle being served. The character wishes revenge for the feeling of self-satisfaction they would attain from it. Their internal sense of personal justice is being served.

    etc...


    Google Maslow's Hierarchy of needs if you are not familiar with it

    A good many motives can be directly traced to that. However, the most interesting of those are either higher up on that pyramid or are unique combinations that defy normal rationalization. What if a creature derived the satisfaction of "Physiological" needs through the attainment of "Love and Belonging" needs? Does that sound strange and improbable? Think again. How many "vampire" stories completely revolve around the development of such combinations?
     
  10. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    where the mind is without fear...
    Defiance of norms or taboos (people want something more when they are prevented to have it), freedom/self reliance/independence.
     
  11. nephlm
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    nephlm Member

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    Underneath those motivations are a set of values. Depending on the values of the character will determine which motivations are important to them. For example a character who highly values security would be highly motivated to keep their job, one who put less stock in security and cared more about stimulation would not be motivated as much by a threat to their job.

    Shalom Shwartz laid out ten categories of these values that are applicable across cultures. (http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_value)

    Benevolence - Protect and nurture the group
    Universalism - Treat the in group and out group equally
    Self-Determination - Being in control of your own life
    Stimulation - Living an interesting life
    Hedonism - The pursuit of pleasure
    Achievement - Accomplish something; prove your worth
    Power - Value authority and leadership
    Security - Stability of your position and life
    Tradition/conformity - Maintaining the societal status quo

    Take Love the broadest of all motivations. A character can be seeking it to fulfill many values:
    Hedonism - seeking the pleasure of love
    Stimulation - Love makes life interesting
    Achievement - Looking to prove that he is no longer a child
    Tradition - It is what his father expects
    Security - Having someone who will be there for you.
    etc.

    So the same motivation takes on very different character depending on what values are driving it. There will be more than one value that drives love, but a character driven by hedonism and stimulation he's more likely to be into quick, passionate, stormy affairs compared to the guy who values security and tradition who will have trouble ending it even after it turns toxic.
     
  12. pessim321
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    pessim321 New Member

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    One theme that I base a lot of my characters upon is fear. Fear can be expanded into three main categories:

    Fear of Death: This is the one I use the most. The fear of death is something that all people have, to a certain extent. When faced with extinction, all other alternatives are preferable.

    Fear of an Object/Subject/Event: This is the classic theme in science fiction and horror stories. The protagonist is afraid of something, and therefore does everything that is possible to avoid that something.

    Fear for an Object/Subject: This is what people call the most "noble" fear. The protagonist is afraid that something is going to happen to another character or object, and does everything possible to protect said character or object.
     

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