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