The Princess Bride has a little bit of everything. Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love, etc.
It also has Motivation, Goals and Conflict (especially conflict.)
In my mind, Motivation is the most important of the three. A man can have a goal of climbing Mt. Everest or landing a sailfish in the Caribbean, but until he has the motivation to get out of his Lazy Boy recliner and take climbing lessons or book a trip to the Bahamas, he’s still going to have those goals a year from now.
Motivation is the “why” of your story
It is your character’s reason to make the journey through the story. It’s his drive, his constant, a real, pressing need that has to be strong enough to withstand the escalating conflict he’ll encounter. Motivation can be anything, no matter how unbelievable(or inconceivable) to the reader, as long as the reader buys into the concept that the characater believes in it.
External motivation is something simple and concrete
- Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo will get the balance of their fee if they kill Buttercup at the Guilder frontier.
- Humperdinck will invade Guilder after his wedding.
- “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father, prepare to die.”
Internal motivation is something intangible
It reinforces the sense of self and is interwoven with the character’s identity. The reader doesn’t have to know the internal motivation, but you, the writer, do.
- Westley is motivated by his love for Buttercup.
- I have taught myself languages because of you. I have made my body strong because I thought you might be pleased by a strong body.
- Buttercup loves Westley and agrees to surrender to Humperdinck outside the Fire Swamp if he agrees to not hurt Westley.
- The narrator (grandfather in the movie, father in the book) continues to visit and read to his (grand)son even though the boy shows disinterest in the story.
- Fezzik puts up with Vizzini’s abuse because he doesn’t want to be left alone.
Motivation can change
This is most evident in Buttercup. After Westley leaves to seek his fortune, she takes an interest in herself for the first time and quickly becomes the most beautiful woman in a hundred years.
After it’s reported the Dread Pirate Roberts has killed him, her motivation is to choose life over death, even if it involves marriage to Prince Humperdinck. When the Man in Black reveals himself as Westley, she wants to live again and waits impatiently for word from Humperdinck’s four fastest ship and ultimate rescue. But at 5:46 on her wedding day, she’s looking for a weapon to use to kill herself.
Motivation can not change
Inigo’s thirst for revenge never wavers. Westley’s love remains constant.
Whatever you’re character’s motivation, it’s the touchstone he’ll go to at the moment of crisis. His values will change very little during his journey.
I will discuss goals and conflict in my next two posts.