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For some time now, I have been trying to figure out my characters' motivation is good or not. My goal is not to have a complex motivation, but rather something people can empathize with.

My main character is named Corry. His goal is to achieve greatness, and the way he will achieve his goal is by going to the academy: a place for every kid from the low class of the kingdom of Ult to go to achieve greatness for themselves and their families. That greatness takes a place among the elite, chosen by grace. As a result, he will no longer be humiliated and looked down upon by the elites as every low-ranking person is.

His motivation is driven by 2 things. His aunt Suzie and grandfather Alfred. They are the only family he has ever known. He feels he owes it to them to give them a good life -- a selfless reason. But deep down he has a deep disregard for the elite, so much so that he wants greatness so he will be recognized like they have been recognized, with respect and have people look up instead of down.

In conclusion: My main character has a mixture of motivations but a clear goal. But I'm not sure if it is good enough.

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    He hates the elites so he wants to be one…? This suggests a promise to the reader that this character will become what he hates. I would expect his arc to be discovering that as an 'elite' he no longer mixes with 'common folk' like his Aunt and Grandfather –– there is a built-in conflict with this goal, readers will expect it to lead him to a crisis/decision where he rejects the Elites, or rejects his personal values and original identity.
    – wetcircuit
    Feb 20, 2022 at 12:32
  • What is "greatness" in this context? Does Corry want to just have the admiration of his peers (or "betters")? Or does he want to be worthy of it? Would he, for example, rather save the world and die nameless, or steal credit from someone that does?
    – user54131
    Feb 20, 2022 at 15:42

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I don't think his motivation makes sense. If he has a deep disregard for the elite, why would he want to be one of them?

I suppose instead of "disregard" you might mean "resentment", in which case he might want to become an elite to do his part to change the system from within.

I became something of an elite (with respect to education and income), from a lower middle class background, mostly because I was born with exceptional mathematical and learning skills and truly enjoyed school. Not like most students; I wasn't into sports or socializing, I loved going to class and studying and taking tests.

I was also a competitive learner, much of my motivation came from a deep need to prove I could outscore anybody in any class, no matter what social class they came from; the more elite the better! I had a big academic chip on my shoulder, and a lifetime 4.0 GPA to back it up.

Still, I can't say I succeeded in that more than 95% of the time; I did encounter a few people in my academic career that outscored me in some classes. I still got my "A", but they definitively beat me on points.

Heck, in Art History I was definitely near the bottom of the A's, there was one girl in that class, an Art major, that I found truly astounding in the intellectual sense for Art. At a level beyond my capability. She repeatedly demonstrated to me that I understand visual artistic expression about as well as a dog understands TV.

That said, my fellow gunslingers did not stop me from trying.

Your character sounds like me. This would be a subtle distinction, but I would switch to something like that. It isn't "disregard" or "resentment" that drives him -- He is extremely competitive, he has something to prove about himself, that he is as good as any so-called elite. And his intention to force his way into the elite and be a different kind of elite is fine too. He doesn't hate them, he thinks they are a bunch of coddled fools that think they've climbed a mountain but were born in a village 3/4 of the way up.

That may lead to a crisis for him, when he figures out he can't really do much about the system, the problems he perceived from the "bottom" looks very different from the "top", and more complicated to reform than he ever thought.

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You seem to be asking two questions here. Forgive me if I have read it incorrcetly.

  1. is my character's motivation "good enough"?
  2. will people empathise with my lead character?

I would suggest you try and approach it differently, and ask yourslef if your character's motiviation is "interesting", and forget the seond question. Because if the first one is a yes, then in many cases that is all that is needed. I'm not saying that reader empathy is not a benefit, but rather it isn't necessary. There are quite a few leads in literature and film that are not particularly relatable, but make for a great story. I'm thinking along the lines of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (Film) or Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (both Film and Novel). I would hope not many of the audience directly related to either character, yet they remained compelling.

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  • I would hope not many of the audience directly related to either character, I think you underestimate (seriously underestimate) the appeal of a bad character. Many of us love characters who express the dark side of human nature that we all possess but most of us are too civilised/repressed/scared to express personally. You can't hope that everyone with mummy issues will work them out with a kitchen knife, some of us will work them out with a bucket of popcorn in the dark. Feb 20, 2022 at 12:13
  • hence "directly" ;-)
    – echo3
    Feb 20, 2022 at 15:27
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Conflict Builds Character:

These are relatable motives, and that means people can relate to the character. But your character doesn't and shouldn't have pure motives. That's super-boring. He has SOME good motives, but also selfish reasons to pursue otherwise laudable goals - and that's GREAT!

Conflict is what builds a character from a two-dimensional stick figure into a three-dimensional person people care about. Your character must struggle with his motives, and ultimately be presented with a situation where he can either choose evil (hurting other elites while selfishly advancing his own benefit, becoming what he hates) or good (helping someone who clearly needs mercy, despite his preconceived notions). At that point, his motives going in don't matter, only what he decides to do about them. Most stories have heroes choose good and somehow come out at least okay, if not BETTER off for doing the right thing. But at that point, it's your story to tell.

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