Goals, Needs, and Motivations

I’ve said that the archetypes are about why someone does something, which sounds like motivation, but it works on an entirely different level. A character usually has some kind of goal, and most of the time, the character is aware of that goal. There’s also a motivation, the reason why the character wants that goal, and usually the character is at least partially aware of that motivation. But the archetype is more about a deep underlying need, often subconscious, that then affects all the other goals and motivations. A character may go through a number of different goals with their own motivations through the course of the story, either changing the goal as the situation changes or moving on to the next goal after achieving — or sometimes failing to achieve — the original goal. The underlying need that defines the archetype never actually goes away unless the character goes through something so profound and life-changing that he evolves to a different archetype and then has a new need.

For instance, the Lost Soul needs a sense of belonging or to find his place in the world. His story goal may (or may not) also have something to do with finding a family — like finding a missing parent/spouse/sibling. But even if he does find something like a home or family, that need is still going to be there, and so he’s going to always feel a little insecure about his place in that home or family, and he may do drastic things in order to protect that home he’s found.

However, the story goal may not be what defines the archetype need. I realized I had an example of someone who looked like a Lost Soul because of his story goal when that wasn’t really his archetype, and yet again I’m disagreeing with the book. They classify Agent Mulder from the X-Files as a Lost Soul, but the more I think about him, the more he seems like a Professor to me. Yeah, he had the whole issue with the sister who vanished and the family that fell apart in the aftermath, but I don’t feel like his quest was about restoring his family or finding his place in the world. His quest was about finding answers and solving the puzzle. He was an outcast because of his obsessions, rather than the other way around. Whenever anyone questioned what he was doing, he dragged out the missing sister story, but especially as things went on, what he was doing wasn’t really about his sister. It was about finding the truth (“The Truth is Out There” is a very Professor motto). I don’t think a real Lost Soul would have spilled his whole painful backstory so quickly to his new partner, as he did with Scully (though I guess that bit of exposition was necessary for setting up the story). But if he’s a Professor obsessed with uncovering the truth and seeing that he might be able to get assistance instead of opposition if his new partner understands him and maybe feels sorry for him, then it makes more sense to spill his guts like that. He didn’t stop his quest even when he (sort of) found out what happened to his sister because what he really wanted to find was the truth about everything that was going on. Another clue that he wasn’t really a Lost Soul: he found out he had a half-brother he never knew about and he didn’t seem to care about that. A real Lost Soul would have been all over finding a long-lost brother and would have done everything he could to win his brother over to the good guys so they could be a family (on the other hand, now that I think about it, Jeffrey Spender may have been a Lost Soul because he ultimately did find his own way to side with his brother and ended up siding with the good guys).

Another really good example of the difference between a goal and a need might be Daniel Jackson from SG-1. Again, he has a lot of Lost Soul traits, given that he was orphaned as a child, never had a real home, and then his wife was kidnapped by alien bad guys and later killed, and his initial goal in joining SG-1 was to find his wife. But what really drove him was the quest for knowledge, so he was a Professor. His wife’s death changed his goal, but all along, his driving need was knowledge. How many times did he have to be practically dragged bodily away from some place that was about to blow up/collapse/disappear because he wanted to record one last detail or get one last translation? He pursued knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself, even when he wasn’t sure of the practical application for it and even when he knew he might lose that knowledge in the end. He did end up finding a kind of home and family in the team, but I never got the feeling that this was a deep need he was trying to fill. It was almost a happy accidental byproduct.

I’ve seen some discussion in other places about certain actions being out of character for certain archetypes, but I don’t think there’s any such thing. Certain types may be more likely to do certain things or reaction to situations in a certain way because of their instincts. For instance, if there’s a person in some kind of distress, the Best Friend, the Lost Soul and maybe even the Charmer would be more likely to make a cup of tea and offer comfort, while the Chief would start delegating assignments for dealing with the situation, the Professor would try to get more information and the Swashbuckler and Warrior would look for something to fight. But any character could take any action if you motivate it enough, and individual characters are going to have things that matter to them or that they’re good at, regardless of their types. Dean Winchester on Supernatural may be a Swashbuckler who just likes action and who doesn’t take much of anything seriously, but where his baby brother is concerned, he can get very serious and it’s not fun and games anymore. On Angel, Wesley the Lost Soul turned out to be a very good leader without being a Chief — he initially got into leadership from wanting to hold the group together after Angel went astray (a very Lost Soul motivation), but he proved to be good enough at leadership that he was even chosen to be the general of a rebel army in an alien dimension.

Actually, one of the best ways to come up with a really interesting situation to put a character in is to think of something that he absolutely would never do, then find a reason that he would absolutely have to do it, and then find a way to create the motivation, working through his archetype needs, to make it make total sense for him to do it. Make the Best Friend have to go on a vengeance vendetta, for instance.

I guess the point there is that archetypes are only a starting point to provide the core of the character, and from there you can build on things like life experiences, talents, circumstances and interests to create a unique character. Another example I forgot from my list of Lost Souls trying to be something else proves that point. Michael Scott on The Office wants desperately to be a Charmer, and he may even be deluded enough to think he really is one (he’s not the most self-aware person around). He wants to be the life of the party, the one with the great jokes, the person everyone loves and wants to be around. Unfortunately, by putting on that act, he’s actively sabotaging himself in meeting his Lost Soul needs because he manages to turn everyone off by going so over the top.

The Lost Soul putting on the Charmer act is also how I’ve described Dr. Chase on House, but they’re obviously two very different characters. You’d have to be insane to want Michael as your doctor. Can you imagine his bedside manner? He’s so self-centered and insensitive. But Chase is a very good doctor with an excellent bedside manner. Some of that is personality, some of it is training and some of it is life experience — Michael trained to be a salesman, while Chase went to seminary and medical school. The only similarity these two have is that their core inner need is belonging and acceptance and they try to hide that vulnerability by acting like a smooth, glib Charmer (and even there, they’re different kinds of Charmers. Michael is very in-your-face, while Chase just puts on a Teflon coating).