1. Mr. X

    Mr. X New Member

    Jun 28, 2016
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    How Do I Better Develop My Protagonist's Motivation?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mr. X, Jun 28, 2016.

    I'm writing a story that has to do with world domination, and in doing so I want to take it from the conqueror or in this case king's perspective as the protagonist. He's a relatively strong ruler at first, though lacking confidence, partly due to the fact he was chosen to be the king by his father and he's not sure he can rule the world. I want to develop him so that he becomes stronger, and the proper and just king in this new world order over the course of the story. Though I don't know if this is enough for the character's motivation. As well as this, I feel as though him being the king of the new world order would be a turn-off for many readers (but then again, I suppose most characters can be developed to be likable.)

    On the other hand, there is the 'villain'. I put it in quotes because everyone I've shown a partial draft of my story so far likes his character and motivation more than the king. The 'villain' is a general in an underground organization that wants to correct the world's wrongs as well, though more democratically instead of centralized power structure. More than this, he wants to keep the modern way of life in tact--the way we live day to day, values of family, friendship, and just being able to live the way we do. When the aforementioned king rises to power, he fears that this will crush the normalcy of things as they are now. Wanting things to continue as they are, he rallies his forces and fights back.

    How can I better develop my prot.'s motivation so that it is as strong as my villain's (if it is strong at all) in order that the reader may better connect with them?

    Note: I'm a newbie: should I include more details about the characters or is this sufficient (i.e., quotes, excerpts from the story)?
  2. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

    Jan 28, 2014
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    I'm confused. You refer to your "villain" as an organization, then refer to it/them as "he." Who is it that wants to uphold democracy, the modern way of life, and family, friends, and freedom? The underground "villainous" org, or the all-powerful (he wishes) king?

    It it's the former, um, yeah. Most readers are naturally going to identify with the values and goals of your antagonist, and you'll have your work cut out for you if you want them to sympathize with your benevolent dictator instead. I have to wonder why you're taking on such a difficult task for yourself. You're asking your readers to deny and subvert what they hold most dear. Not that we can't suspend judgement for the sake of entertainment . . . I mean, we can admire a character in a novel as a magnificent bastard and marvel at how he's getting away with what he does, without converting to his way of thinking and acting. But this might be pushing things too far.

    Seems to me, if you really want the young king to be the protagonist, the antagonist has to be an individual or group who's working against the peace, happiness, and prosperity of the people. Maybe the king comes to power after a period of confusion, hardship, and unrest, like Napoleon did after the French Revolution, or like Aragorn in Return of the King. But this antagonist group won't give up and keeps causing misery in various parts of the empire. Maybe they spread lies about the king and falsely stir up the citizens against him.

    You say your new monarch wants to uphold order and do what is right (BTW, for a portrait of the ideal king, look up Psalm 72 in the Bible). But maybe he has people around him who would profit if he became an iron-fisted dictator. Maybe events in his own past could put obstacles in the way of him being evenhanded and just. And if the forces of anarchy are still at work, giving in to cruelty could be a real temptation.

    Think of what character traits would help or hinder him in achieving his goal, think what experiences in his past would make him focus on that goal, and consider how he came by them. Have fun making up his backstory. Never a word of it may reach the page, but it'll be a most valuable exercise, I promise.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2016
  3. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

    Mar 13, 2016
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    As Catrin Lewis pointed out, it is difficult to have readers identify with a dictator. That being said, character development boils down to two questions: what happens to the protagonist? How does this alter his/her character. In terms of what you want to accomplish, you can ask yourself those two questions to get a better idea of what needs to happen in a story for the character to develop how you want him to.

    That formula seems to work pretty well. If you can think of individual scenes as separate from the novel, you can pinpoint what you need to write in order to have the character change. In terms of making other people like him, thats not really up to you, haha. That is up to the reader. You should have a pretty good instinct if you are an avid reader and writer. If you don't like him, chances are other people won't either. What you can do in that scenario is ask yourself why you don't like him, and change it. If you DO like him, and others don't. Ask yourself what you like about him, and objectively critique your work to see if that shines through, or you only see it because you have spent so much time thinking about such things.

    Anyway, I hope this helps.
  4. Holoman

    Holoman New Member

    Jun 28, 2016
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    Seems you have given yourself a difficult task to do! Your protagonist sounds like a villain.

    The most obvious way is to make it personal for him, so he has someone or something he cares about invested or on the line if he doesn't reach his goal.

    Other things to add could be the negative consequences of him not getting his goal, like the world will turn to anarchy, people will start killing each other and him and his family first of all. But even then I think that's not strong enough to get readers to root for a dictator.

    Maybe God is telling him to control the world and stop people doing things or he will bring about the end of days.

    You probably have to make the consequences of him not being a dictator utterly catastrophic, and in a way make his actions selfless rather than wholly self-serving.
  5. FireWater

    FireWater Senior Member

    May 29, 2016
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    Try using the "five whys." I read it in a management book somewhere, and basically, when trying to nail down a true motivation, you use this type of process:

    1. Why do I [my character] want X?
    2. Why do they want to attain X?
    3. Why do they want that outcome?

    etc., and do that 5 times.
  6. Lady Mars

    Lady Mars New Member

    Jun 21, 2016
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    Houston, Texas
    What if you deepen the development of the trials the character faced with his father. Perhaps his father had a very sick and twisted idea of how the world should be run, which caused the sons hatred for being King in the first place. He could struggle with the desire to gain approval from a father who has never loved nor been proud of him, as well as his desire to wreck havoc on the villain and stop him from setting fire to the world (figuratively). He will have to choose whether he should gain fellowship with the villain and follow an evil path paved out for him by his family or completely isolate himself from everyone he knows and find a new group of peers who can help him bring peace to earth.

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