Fiction Friday – Using McClellan’s Needs to Define Character


Character Motivation

Have you considered your characters motivations? Yes, of course you have! All characters will have their own motivation and needs, right?

But have you done it using McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory?

According to McClelland, there are three dominant motivators for people:

  • Achievement
  • Affiliation
  • Power


Achievement-oriented characters are goal-oriented. Seeking things that challenge them, they take calculated risks to accomplish those goals. They can also be the type who want to be good at what they do, so they might not do things they’re not good at. These people often like to work alone and they like feedback and recognition for what they DO.


Affiliation-oriented characters want to belong, to be liked (or loved) and will often go along with others in order to fit in. They favor collaboration over competition, and they don’t like risks or uncertainty. They may like to be recognized for being likable or good people and may avoid conflict.


Power-oriented characters want to control and influence others. They like to win arguments (or battles), and they enjoy competition. They seek status, recognition, and glory.

This can be for the betterment of the group (like the manager who leads a team to meet sales goals, or a hero who leads an army to defeat the enemy). Power-oriented characters can also be bad guys who want to control others (to feel safe, and powerful), who want to make people follow their own agenda (like leading an evil army), or who want to be the one make someone else pay–to bring their own sense of justice (like a vigilante).

I found a great article online about human motivation theory in the workplace, but it’s easy to tailor this to your characters to give them motivation as well. Not only is it helping me to understand and design my characters better. It’s also helping me to understand my coworkers better.

How about you? How do you figure out your characters’ motivations?


4 thoughts on “Fiction Friday – Using McClellan’s Needs to Define Character

  1. Matthew Dean (@matthewdl) says:

    Nice! Immediately, I thought of one the main stories I’m working on, in which each of three central characters (who will inevitably come into conflict) respectively possess one each of these three motivators. I love it when the science of writing follows choices I’m making intuitively.

  2. lvoisin says:

    Thanks Matthew! Yeah. I was thinking about all the ways people with differing motivators could come into conflict. Then I thought of how people with the same motivators could come into conflict. It’s fun stuff!

  3. Maggie says:

    This is a timely blog for me. It helped me understand the arc of the main character in my NaNo novel. She starts off as affliation but morphs to achievement as the dramas unfold. At least I think that’s what happens. I’d better keep writing and find out!
    Great website, Lisa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s