Are we digging the alphabetic layout of the A to Z challenge? Sure, it’s a little Sesame Street, but we may end up with something comprehensive by the end. 😉
Anyway, welcome to day 5, where we’ll be discussing external motivation.
People (and characters) can be motivated for a number of reasons. We eat because we’re hungry. We go to work because we need money to live (and hopefully find personal fulfillment in whatever we’re doing). We fight to win. Pretty much everything we do has either external or internal motivations behind them.
External (or extrinsic) motivations are things we do for a reward outside ourselves. Kids do chores for an allowance. They play soccer to get a trophy. They study to pass the class.
This post digs deeper into the idea:
“Extrinsic motivation refers to our tendency to perform activities for known external rewards, whether they be tangible (e.g., money) or psychological (e.g., praise) in nature.”
(Brown, Psychology of Motivation, 2007)
How can we apply this to writing?
In the post about agency, we discussed how characters drive the story. Knowing why they do what they do offers depth. A character pursuing a specific course of action to allay guilt will behave differently than one trying to steal a fortune.
Consider one of my favorite movies, The Italian Job.
In the beginning, all of the characters were externally motivated: they wanted to steal the gold. Then, after Steve betrays them all, their motivation changed – somewhat. They still wanted the gold and had big dreams for it, but there was an added measure of revenge (especially for Stella). How they planned and behaved changed as their motivation moved from external to internal (which we’ll get more into when we reach day I).
Scrooge wanted money. Gollum wanted the ring. The boys in October Sky wanted to win scholarships. Their motivations formed their roles in their respective stories.
What are your favorite stories with externally motivated characters?