Using Push and Pull Motivation to Create Dynamic Characters

Character motivation forms a crucial thread that weaves the plot and narrative together. Characters in a story, much like real individuals, are driven by a mix of internal and external forces. Psychologists have labeled these push and pull motivations. You can use this trick to breath life into your story and create dynamic characters.

What Are Push and Pull Motivations?

Push and pull motivations are psychological factors that influence human behavior and decision-making. They are often used in marketing, psychology, and various fields to understand what drives individuals to take certain actions. 

A push motivation is the desire to avoid an unwanted result. Think of the child who doesn’t want to eat their broccoli. What do they do? The kid pushes the vegetable off the plate.

A pull motivation is the desire to attain a certain result. Now think of the same kid at the checkout counter at a grocery store. They see a candy bar and they reach out to grab it. 

Push and Pull Examples

Here are some examples of push and pull motivations:

Push motivations:

  1. Fear of Failure: A student studies hard because they fear failing the exam and disappointing their parents or themselves.
  2. Health Concerns: Someone exercises regularly because they are concerned about their health and want to prevent illness.
  3. Financial Stress: A person works long hours at their job to pay off debt and alleviate financial stress.
  4. Deadline Pressure: A writer completes a project because the deadline is approaching, and they want to avoid negative consequences for missing it.
  5. Internal Drive for Success: An entrepreneur works tirelessly to succeed because they are driven by personal ambition and a desire for accomplishment.

Pull motivations:

  1. Desire for Reward: A person participates in a fitness challenge to win a prize or gain recognition for their achievements.
  2. Attraction to a Goal: An individual pursues a career in music because they are passionate about it and love the idea of making a living doing what they love.
  3. Incentives and Discounts: A customer buys a product during a sale because of the attractive discounts being offered.
  4. Vacation Planning: Someone saves money and plans for a dream vacation, motivated by the desire to explore new places and have exciting experiences.
  5. Personal Growth: A person enrolls in a course to learn a new skill or expand their knowledge because they are eager to grow personally and professionally.

Motivate Your Character

We all want our characters to trot down the well-constructed road of our plot. Yet forcing a character to do so can lead to flat characterization. Think about how you “motivate” your character to do what you want them to do.

A character might be driven by the fear of failure, punishment, or loss. This fear ‘pushes’ them to act in a certain way to avoid the anticipated negative outcome. Or their desire to overcome or cope with their past may drive them to take actions they would otherwise avoid.

On the other hand, characters driven by a desire for success, recognition, or achievement are being ‘pulled’ by their aspirations. Additionally, the love for a person or the need to protect and nurture relationships can be a potent pull motivation. Characters may make sacrifices or go on adventures to ensure the safety and happiness of their loved ones.

Creating Relatable Characters

Characters with a mix of push and pull motivations become relatable to readers, as they mirror the complexities of human nature. Readers can empathize with their struggles and celebrate their victories, leading to a more engaging reading experience.

Tim Kane

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