It is a trope that is often used in fantasy and for a good reason. The main protagonist is thrown into a new world, as clueless as to the threats and wonders it contains. Much like the reader, lending the reader an attachment to this protagonist, the reader learning as the main character learns.
Yet, why should the main character even care? Let’s talk about motivation.
Method 1: The MC Fights Friends
A classic method with most novels of this genre is to ensure the MC (the main character) makes friends. These friends become who they wish to protect. Of course, that is if they are threatened by the antagonist of the world. You will see this in many young adult fantasy novels.
Harry Potter, Skulduggery Pleasant and so on. It is a trope that never seems to fail if the writing is good enough. If you wish to make full use of this trope, your MC needs to be someone who doesn’t connect with ‘normal’ people. Rather, they struggle to make friends until they meet a band of weirdos the MC can relate to more.
It is here the MC shifts from their bad social life to one far more healthy. Of course, it goes without saying, the MC will eventually spend enough time with their new friends that the MC would do anything to keep them.
Method 2: The MC Wants to Escape Their World
While not used so often in young adult literature, the ‘escape method’ is still a common one. The MC lives a dull life, or perhaps an unfulfilling one. No matter who they are, are desk-jockey or a rockstar, the MC finds that the world they are living in just isn’t their cup of tea.
Once more, the MC is thrown into a world of wonder. Perhaps there are advanced technologies or a bit of magic and monsters or even a new perspective thrust upon them. At that moment the MC goes through a similar shift to the one in method 1. The MC finds that the void within them is filled in this new world and now they wish to stay in.
To escape from a life that left them down and depressed, the MC finds their motivation. The MC would fight to stay in the world or to find it again if the people aren’t too keen on having them. Either way, the MC now has a place in the world in the story, which gives them the drive to follow the plot.
Method 3: The MC Wants to Escape BACK to Their World
While not so common, it is still a fantastic motivation. The MC finds themselves at least mildly content in their world or absolutely loathing their life. Whichever they feel, the MC is then thrown into a world that repulses them or perhaps gives them a new appreciation for the life they once had.
It is then the MC’s desire to escape that pushes them throughout the story. The MC might meet people or creatures that help him along the way, by guiding him through the twisted world. Of course, the antagonist seeks only to do harm to the MC or perhaps keep them in the world, a prisoner, for whatever reason.
If this trope doesn’t sound so familiar, let me remind you of Alice in Wonderland. Alice being one of the most famous of the first MCs to be thrown into the most bizarre and dangerous world. Of course, it is her desire to follow a white rabbit, but this desire is only heightened as she figures only he can help her escape.
Of course, in these novels, you can easily convey a moral message to your reader. Yet, if your MC and world are interesting enough, the reader might not even notice, which is far from a negative.
Method 4: The MC Fights to Survive
In some novels, the MC is not pulled into the world, but the world is thrust upon them. Through coincidence or fate, the MC is now threatened by something not from their world. Now, this can be something of a problem for the main character.
Of course, that leaves you with the story of a character who wishes to live. The motivation of the character is that they are not safe at night, that they cannot take their problem to the police or another form of law enforcement to protect them. More likely they will need to side with someone or something else from the same world to help them sleep at night.
A story such as this lacks the emotional attachment that is often sought after in a young adult novel. It is a character motivation that is more realistic and cold, making it more of an adult fantasy novel idea than anything else. However, it is a motivation that can be incredibly fun to read depending on how the novel is written.
Method 5: The MC Has Strong Morals
A final motivation to talk about and quite an interesting one. It is not often than a main character in a novel has such strong moral values that they are the foundation of their motivation, especially in a novel where there is no reason that the MC should do anything for anyone in this new world.
Yet, while the character with strong moral values is not normally the MC, it can make for an interesting novel. A character with such an investment in their beliefs will be touched for whatever reason by an event in the new world. Perhaps a character begs them for aid or a character does something that the MC firmly supports.
In which case, you have a motivation.
The MC finds that they have a purpose in this new world, whether it is their own or not. For that reason, the MC will do what they must to stand by their values, following the plot until their work is done or they can do as much as they can. While there is no literal attachment to this world, the MC cannot return to their own in good conscience.
BONUS Method: A Combination of the Above
There is always one reason that the MC decides to play in the new world. Perhaps they are trapped in the new world, or the new world is better than their own. Perhaps the people they care about need defending or they feel they should maintain a moral standing.
Whatever the reason is, a second and even a third usually follows. The MC can have a combination of the above methods, although not initially. When thrown into a world the MC’s priority is to orientate themselves, to leave and decide. Sometimes this takes mere moments and sometimes there needs to be a particular event to help them decide.
Yet, eventually, the character makes this decision, they follow the plot the writer has planned out and by the end of it, they usually have more than one reason. Few characters ever stick with their one goal, as often they decide to sacrifice it if only for a moment, to serve another goal.
A character might put their desire to escape a world on hold so they might save a new friend. That is what makes your character human. The only character that comes to mind who had a single motivation throughout their story was Nanny McPhee.
A character who helped children when they needed her, not when they wanted her. When she was no longer needed, she left. While more a magical being than anything else, Nanny McPhee had a moral standing and only that. While she cares for all she looks after, she only looks after them when they need her and that rule is unbreakable. Yet, even this character I cannot push as a character who is thrown into a new world.
If you wish to create far more interesting MC, place yourself in their shoes and live through their personality. If you do so well enough, you can make their decisions as them, not as yourself, without fault.
I hope you found this look into character motivation insightful. I often enjoy approaching these tropes, finding what works and what doesn’t. There are many writers out there who struggle with finding something as important as a motivation for their character.
If you found the article helpful, be sure to share it with any other authors who might struggle with the same problem. In addition to that, if you have any problems with your writing that you would like advice on, let me know in the comments or join my writer’s group and share it with other authors like yourself!
As always, good day, goodnight and happy writing!
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Matthew Dewey, Writer
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