Last time (here) I talked about how biological needs (i.e., thirst and hunger) and incentives (i.e., awards and recognition) can drive a character to behave or act. Yet, sometimes we eat when we aren't hungry and we don't always receive recognition for our efforts. And prior to last week, (here) I said instincts such as love and fear are not always underlying behaviors. So, what is left? Glad you asked. Arousal and Humanism are the remaining theories related to motivation.
Arousal Theory says people are motivated to maintain a level of arousal that is optimal—neither too high nor too low. When we are over or under stimulated, we act to alter the situation or stimuli, achieving our individual optimal level. For some, achieving the optimal level means skydiving or moving to a new town or learning a language. This theory explains why we seek comfort foods and alcohol when we are feeling blue. But just like the other theories, there is a glitch with this one. Not everyone wants to try new things. And sometimes when we are understimulated, we…well, don’t change things. We simply sit back and complain.
So maybe Humanism is the TRUE motivation theory. It emphasizes the importance of psychological and cognitive factors in motivation, especially the notion that people are motivated to realize their personal potential. What? Say it in English? Sure. In short, you will work hard at your job because it’s what is best for your human growth and development. People do good works so the world is a better place. It sounds very “make love not war,” don’t you think? I’m willing to make a bet that each of you out there can think of someone who is NOT actively striving to better themselves. So this theory doesn’t capture everything either.
But don’t pull out your pint of ice cream and cooking spoon just yet. I still need to talk about when we DO see characters fall prey to these motivations. After all, that is the point of these posts. Any character who is addicted to drugs or food or…well any mind altering substance is seeking arousal. Adventure seekers, such as Indian Jones would fit nicely in the sensation seeker crowd. And for a more…down to earth example, in the book Good Grief by Lolly Winston, the main character’s husband dies early in the book. After shuffling into her job, wholly unaware she left her house still wearing her pj’s and pink bunny slippers, she decides it is time for a change. Much of her actions from that point forward are driven by arousal and humanistic principles.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee has a character that is driven by humanistic principles: Atticus Finch. He worked for pennies as a town lawyer because he believed all men should be treated equal. That belief in humanity drove the story. And prepare to roll your eyes…go on, give them a test roll.
Next week I will tie it all together, talk about what it means to motivate a character. Until then …
What books have you read that had a character motivated to save the world or seek adventures?