We’re officially a third of the way through our Story Stuff series. I hope you’re enjoying reading the posts as much as I am writing them (which is a lot).
Today we talk about the other side of what we started on E day – that was external motivation, so today is . . . internal motivation!
Internal (or intrinsic) motivation is a little fuzzier than external motivation. As described in this article, a person (or character) operating from internal motivation is working towards internal rewards, such as learning something new or simply to enjoy an activity. Intrinsic motivation involves positive emotions for their own sake – or in the interest of narrative conflict, avoiding or fighting negative emotions.
As I was chewing on the content of this post, Guardians of the Galaxy came on TV, and one character in particular demonstrates a nice contrast between external and internal motivations: Rocket.
On the surface, Rocket is entirely externally motivated. He and Groot are bounty hunters who are out for basically one thing: money (or units, as they’re called in this world). The only reason they agreed to help Quill and Gamora get the orb to the collector was the promise of four million (or was it billion?) units.
But there are moments were we get to see Rocket’s internal motivations almost win out.
Take the bar fight scene. Drax had insulted Rocket’s status as a genetically engineered being, and because Rocket was all liquored up, he pulled a gun on Drax. Quill had to talk him down, reminding him of the massive number of units headed his way if he can keep from killing anyone.
Rocket was internally motivated to get satisfaction from killing the guy who’d insulted him. But he was more externally motivated by money.
In a funnier example, Rocket is leading the others in crafting a plan to escape the prison.
Part of the instructions to Quill was to obtain another prisoner’s prosthetic leg. Rocket didn’t really need it for the escape. He just thought it would be funny to make Quill get it – he was internally motivated to get a laugh.
Characters have their reasons for doing what they do, just like we do. Understanding why they do those things, and how their actions are externally or internally motivated, can make them seem more real and relatable.
Even if the character is a genetically engineered raccoon.
What characters do you think have strong internal motivations?