The brilliant Dylan Meconis recently shared four character motivation questions with me. I found them really helpful so I’m passing them along. For each one, I’ve suggested some things that your answers might include, but I’m sure there are many other possibilities!
Answer in the voices of your characters:
What do I have?
Objects significant to the plot, personality characteristics, skills, knowledge, close relationships, enemies.
What do I need?
Of course a character may need to acquire any number of Plot Coupons. But beyond that, they can be at any position in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, working their way up — or down, if your plot involves them losing jobs, social position, close relationships, etc.
Who do I want to see in power?
Perhaps particularly well suited to a plot that involves some level of political intrigue, but depending on what constitutes politics in your setting, this question can cover a lot of ground.
What am I most afraid of?
Could include phobias, individuals (someone who represents an active threat to the character, someone the character is terrified of disappointing, someone the character is terrified of losing), groups, specific situations.
Bonus round: if your plot involves the machinations of larger entities (provinces, nations, worlds, academic departments, etc.), answer the questions in the ‘voice’ of each entity as well.