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Quick Character Motivation Exercise
copyright 2001 by Alicia Rasley

Here's a quick exercise to help you explore your protagonist's needs and values and strengths and issues.

Mixing External with Internal and Turning Up the Heat

1. Fill in the blanks: (Protagonist name) ____________ wants (goal)
_________________ by (time, date, occasion) _______________, because
(motivation) ______________. If (name) _____________ doesn't get this, (he/she)
_____ thinks that (something bad) _______________ will happen. If (name)
______________ does get this, (he/she) ______ thinks that (something good)
________________ will happen.

Example:  Theresa wants to find her birthparents while Adam is still in town to help her
with the search (two weeks), because she thinks they will tell her why they gave her up.
If Theresa doesn't find them, she thinks that once her adoptive mother dies, she will be
all alone.  If Theresa does find them, she thinks that she will finally belong to a real

2. Fill in the blanks:
(Name) _______________ is on a journey from (one state of being)
________________ to (another state of being) ________________, and to get there,
(he/she) ___________ must (learn, grow, overcome something)
___________________________. The external plot powers (name) _________ on this
journey because it challenges (him/her) _______ to (do, become, change)

Theresa is on a journey from isolation to alliance, and to get there, she must learn to
give up the dreams of the ideal family and embrace the one she has.  The external plot
powers Theresa on this journey becaue it challenges her to search for the truth and to
take her adoptive sisters into her confidence.

3. Jot down what your protagonist does in your external plot in the:

B-- Theresa comes home to search for her birthmother, hiding her plan from her adoptive sisters and mother.
M-- With help from the mysterious Adam, Theresa tracks her original family to a nearby town.
E-- Theresa learns that Adam isn't who she thought he was, and that her original family is not the ideal she'd hoped for.  When Adam threatens her sisters, she realizes that she must accept them as her family and let go of her dream of restoring the past.

4. (Name's) _____________________ central strength is __________________. This
is brought out in the external plot because ________________________________.
Some problems that come along with this strength are:

Theresa's central strength is her scrupulous determination not to sin, to be virtuous.
This is brought out in the external plot because she must rejoin the real world (after a
long religious retreat) and deal with its moral ambiguities.  She once thought if she were good enough, her birthmother would come back for her.  Some problems that come
with this strength are: self-righteousness, alienation from her "sinful" sister,
over-strictness, self-absorption, fear that a mistake will lead to ostracism and
condemnation, others' perception that she's cold and unforgiving.


5. More than anything, (protagonist name) is afraid of __________________. The last
thing he/she wants to do is ___________________.

More than anything, Theresa is afraid of loving too much and being abandoned.  The
last thing she wants to do is trust in the love of the sisters who have never really
accepted her.

Alicia Rasley is a 13-year member of Romance Writers of America, a writing teacher, and a RITA-award winning Regency author. She teaches at Painted Rock Writers Colony.

If you like my articles, check out my interactive writing booklets and plot guidebook:

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Go to previous articles:

Dazzling Dialogue Tips

The Submission Journey

Suspense Is More Than Surprise

Scenes on Fire!

 Beginnings, Middles, and Ends: The Purposes

 Character Motivation

 On the Brink: Turbocharge Your Opening

Tightening the Sagging Middle

Sharks in the Water: Old Scams in the New Millennium

The Publishing Journey

Lest Ye Be Judged: Contest Judging for Writers

Setting and Character Interactions

Developing the Dark Moment

The Promise of the Hot Premise

Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes

Subtle and Sensual

Plotting Without Fears

Structuring the Story

End Thoughts

Details, Details

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