Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Motivations (Version 2)
These exercises were written
by IWW members
and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its
You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that
them at the Internet Writers Workshop
Prepared by: Rheal Nadeau
Posted on: June 16, 2002 and June 13, 2004, as "What Drives You?"
Reposted, revised, on July 23, 2006
The exercise: In 400 words or less, show a character acting, or
reacting, based on at least one internal and one external motivation.
Try to show rather than
tell. The internal and external motives can support or contradict each
What makes people, or characters, do the things they do?
Our actions are the result of multiple impulses, sometimes
contradictory, sometimes in agreement; no serious action will have a
single cause or motivation.
Some of those motives are internal: greed, ambition, generosity, and so
on. Some are
external--things happen that create pressures and opportunities.
Internal motives are a part of character; external stimuli drive the
plot. Both should
Sometimes even a minor event can trigger a major reaction, simply by
occurring at a
moment of great stress or opportunity. Such an event may even provide
simply a pretext for action: a violent man, angry over some problem in
may take it out on an innocent bystander who gave him the merest
As a simple example, consider the car buyer who carefully weighs
reviews, features, and costs--and then buys the red car because it
In a more serious example, there are many tales of cowards performing
heroic acts in wartime. In a highly dangerous situation, conflicting
cause a person to act in an unexpected way. The soldier acts to save
perhaps, even though he deeply fears the consequences.
In fiction, we have the example of Scarlett O'Hara, the spoiled society
belle, performing great deeds and working as hard as any slave to
things she firmly believes to be her own. Her conduct illustrates her
unwillingness to give up what matters most to her even though she's
required to perform actions
she never would have considered before.
If you have trouble starting on this exercise, take a look at this
article on motivations in stories:
In 400 words or less, show a character acting, or reacting, based on at
least one internal and one external motivation. Try to show rather than
internal and external motives can support or contradict each other.
When critiquing, describe the motivations as you saw them, and tell how
you thought they did or didn't contribute to the resulting action.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.