WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #2: Inner Motivations
What does the hero of your story want?
Lots of things. And that’s the problem. Sifting through all those desires to pinpoint the ones that drive your story can be confusing and overwhelming. So in this series of articles I’m breaking down a hero’s primary goals to help you identify the ones that are essential, and how to manage them all while keeping your story simple and powerful.
#2: Inner Motivations
As I discussed last time, the Outer Motivation is a character’s specific, visible goal. When we read or hear what it is, we can picture what achieving it would look like. And our image of that moment of victory will be pretty close to anyone else’s.
This is the finish line the hero wants to accomplish by the end of the story. It defines the story in terms of plot, and it’s what your readers or audiences are invested in emotionally.
Once you’ve identified your hero’s outer motivation, then you want to ask why? Why is this external desire so important? What deeper desire does your hero believe achieving this visible goal will fulfill? Acceptance? Belonging? Success? Love? Revenge? Fulfillment?
In other words, what is your hero’s Inner Motivation?
I use the term inner motivation because these desires are invisible – they are states of mind characters want to experience. While visible goals are vivid and specific, inner motivations are more general and universal.
In A Quiet Place, Lee Abbott (John Krasinski)’s outer motivation is to stop the aliens from killing his family. But beyond his own survival instinct, his inner motivation is to be a good husband and father. He believes his path to self worth is to do whatever he can to protect and provide for those he loves so deeply.
So why does this matter to you as the storyteller?
Because you want audiences and readers to identify with your hero’s desire; you want them to connect with your hero by recognizing a deeper longing that they have also experienced. We may not have battled aliens, but the desire of a parent to give everything for their children resonates deeply across all cultures.
Such a powerful inner motivation will give more depth and meaning to your hero’s arc. Only if we know what drives your hero can we understand and be touched by their courage, determination and growth.
Your hero’s inner motivation isn’t always the right path to fulfillment. It’s possible that your hero will discover that his inner desires have taken him in the wrong direction.
Perhaps what your hero needs to learn – and the deeper message of your story – is that revenge, status, sex, riches or power over others aren’t the best ways to achieve real happiness and fulfillment.
If you’re looking for an emotionally impactful autobiographical story to deliver on the stage or the page, consider relating a misguided inner motivation from your own past. Perhaps you were consumed by your desire for money and success above everything else. Then, when you found yourself lonely, ill from stress, regretful or unfulfilled, you saw the price you had paid for these empty pursuits. This realization, and your resulting transformation, can move your followers toward a better inner motivation than yours had been.
Even righteous heroes striving for wealth or justice, or who want to change the world, might discover that wanting those things is fine, but the unexpected outcomes of the courage they find are connection, love and fulfillment.
In Part 3 of this series I’ll explore the desires that frighten your hero: Longings and Needs.
[Click below to read other articles in this series.]
WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT #1: The Outer Motivation
WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT #3: Longings & Needs
This was another great article and did a really great job explaining the difference between the main character’s Outer and Inner motivations. My only issue is the choice of movie used as an example:
Quote from article: “In A Quiet Place, Lee Abbott (John Krasinski)’s outer motivation is to stop the aliens from killing his family. But beyond his own survival instinct, his inner motivation is to be a good husband and father. He believes his path to self worth is to do whatever he can to protect and provide for those he loves so deeply.”
Serious question: How many people who watched this movie actually EVER entertained the question of the Father’s “inner motivation” in this movie? How many people watching were thinking about the main character’s desire to be a “good husband or father” … or maintain his “self worth?”
My guess is zero. I personally don’t think movie’s that are primarily based on survival, lend themselves very-well to the inner motivation question. Survival is based on fight or flight… there’s no time (or benefit), for “deep inner thoughts.”
Outstanding Article sir….and your first article WHAT DOES YOUR HERO WANT? #1: The Outer Motivation …..it is also very nice
Dang it! I wish I could afford to have you for a mentoring session.
Thank you so much Michael, you make the complex understandable and that in and of itself is a gift!
Good article…helped to remind me of the little things that aren’t right in my story…reworking it!! Thanks Michael
Thank you Micheal. I hope one day we will be able to work together for my big project
Thanks for these. How much does it matter in which order the Outer Motivation and the Inner Motivation are revealed? And is it important to reveal these within the first ten pages?
Thanks, Michael! I am adapting a book to screen, and find this helpful with the interview process. I’m able to ask better questions of the book’s hero, thus getting Internal dialogue onto the page.
And that’s just for starters 🙂
Will keep you posted!
All the best from the Wild West!
Great articles, Michael. Loved them both and looking forward to the next.
Hi Michael, I think I also read this in of your books. I read two of them. Doesn’t matter, this article is a good refresh. Thanks!
Thank you very much for your insight, gems and a treasure chest of gold.
It’s really helpful for me, thank you very much!
Thanks for this article! It came just when I’ve started weaving through this motivation in my book. You even used an example that speaks directly to my character. Must be meant to be!! I appreciate you.
Thank You Michael! Like Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman, you are giving us pearls here…
It’s all getting clearer now. Or is it..?
WHAT the hero wants = outer motivation
WHY the hero wants it = inner motivation
And then there are the obstacles…
1. The hero might get the WHAT, and the WHY is fulfilled
2. The hero might get the WHAT, but the WHY is not fulfilled (the hero realises something else)
3. The hero might not get the WHAT, but the WHY is fulfilled anyway (another way)
Or something else happens… can’t wait to read more.