One of the first things you learn as an actor is to always question your character’s motivation. Why did she say that line? Why did he change his mind halfway through dialling that number? Why did she walk in wearing only a towel? (Fun Fact: that last question is from personal experience!)
It’s so ingrained in theatre culture that it’s become a bit of a punchline. “Yes, but what’s my motivation?” we cheekily ask when the director tells us to do something.
I was doing background for a made-for-TV movie (that shall remain nameless) when the movie’s star (who shall also remain nameless) got in a bit of an argument with the director over his character’s motivation in a particular scene. Whoa! Character motivation: it’s what’s on everyone’s mind!
This has been a very handy tool in my writing, as well. Whenever a scene isn’t working or the dialogue isn’t ringing true, I go back to that question: what’s the character’s motivation?
Being an actor/writer has mutated me. Questioning motivation is now in my DNA. I think about it when I’m having conversations with family members; I’m thinking about it as I’m making big life decisions. If I’ve inadvertently put my foot in my mouth and made someone angry, I rewind the mental tape for my motivation. If I’m upset about something that happened, I relive the event in question to see if my own intentions were askew.
Though, if we’re being totally honest here, at least 50% of the time my motivation is purely: to get attention. I’m an #Artist4Life, after all.