I've probably mentioned character motivations in a prior post numerous times, but in skimming my past musings on writing I've yet to come across a single post talking primarily about determining what motivates your character. Now, Nelsa Roberto is quite possibly the queen of determining motivation, but I'm willing to offer my humble thoughts on the topic if you fine folks are willing to read it.
One of the documents I crafted awhile back during my pre-planning for the Scene Development document was a sheet detailing the goals of each of my primary or secondary characters. This ended up being roughly six pages of profile work, but it helped me figure out what my heroine wants, why my villain wants to stop her, and what the goals of their individual allies are -- sometimes the goals of their allies were in line with those of the heroine or villain, and sometimes the goals were wildly different.
Why is figuring this out ahead of time a good thing? For two reasons really: first off, you get a deeper sense of who the character is. Second, you understand why the story happens the way it does. In CALLARION AT NIGHT, Moriah's motivation is the promise she makes to her father that she will find her mother's diary. By contrast, the villain (Lucian Rombard) is motivated by his desire to destroy the diary because he's convinced it contains information that will disrupt his plans to eliminate the half-breeds from the kingdom.
Rombard's original motivation for wanting the diary was because he thought it contained proof of something he'd already done. They I realized: "Wait a minute. He could just say the diary was a lie and kill Moriah. Why would he care?" So his motivation changed to something that makes more sense in the context of propelling the story forward.
My secondary characters important enough to appear multiple times also get the same treatment. In some cases, this involves half a page of text describing who they are and why they want what they want. This adds flavor to the world of the story, and allows me to occasionally place the goals in opposition to each other. In the case of Dmitry Radimov, a former commander in Naval Intelligence, this means his goal of revenge on the man who murdered his wife may get in Moriah's way of finding the diary. Why? Because the man who killed Dmitry's wife may be in possession of a clue.
Not all motivations are created equal, however. I've read a lot of fantasy stories where the motivation of the main character is nothing more than "it's the right thing to do." While this can work, on occasion, I've found that many times such a general motivation tends to not hold up under examination. It's fine in such seminal novels as Lord of the Rings though, because Frodo isn't the cliche fantasy hero. He's a hobbit with no battle skills whatsoever, no experiences outside the Shire, and is completely ignorant of most of the dangers he'll face on the way to his goal. And yet, knowing all this, he decides to hike across the world to destroy a ring that could end his way of life. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
A super-heroine like Moriah (Gary Corby called her that one day, which made me realize that she kind of is a super-heroine), however, can't do something because "it's the right thing to do." The motivation doesn't hold the same weight because she's too close to a stereotypical fantasy hero. That's why it has to be something more mundane and personal motivating her rather than the greater good of the kingdom. Besides that, her personality wouldn't mesh very well with an altruistic motivation when the story opens. She's got too much hurt and anger threading through her actions.
What about your characters? What motivates them?