Tips for Dramatic Actors – What is My Character’s Motivation?

Like all forms of acting, the actions and dialogue of your character is based on his motivation. I’m sure if you’ve read my other acting articles, you have come across several statements discussing the importance of uncovering your character’s motivation; however, when you’re acting in a dramatic film or stage play, discovering this motivation is key to creating a realistic and captivating performance. If you are curious about finding out your character’s motivation, then continue reading. Don’t forget to check out of my other articles related to dramatic acting by visiting my profile page.


This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself when you’re acting in a dramatic film or play. Why is your character there? Why is your character speaking? Why does he say what he says? Why? As an actor, this three-letter word can uncover the hidden recesses of your character to help cultivate a three-dimensional person. By answering this question, you have accomplished the first step in uncovering your character’s motivation.

Motivation Based on Circumstance

Throughout our daily lives, our motivation is continually changing based on our current circumstances. For example, your original motivation was to go to the mall and pick up a book on acting, however, on the way there your tire goes flat. Now, your motivation has switched gears to fixing your tire. The same is true within any dramatic scene. As the story arch changes, the motivation for your character also changes. One of the biggest mistakes you as a dramatic actor can do is keep the same motivation throughout an entire scene. Even if your primary motivation stays the same, each line of dialogue can have momentary motivation. For example, the primary motivation of a scene is to uncover the truth as to why your mother lied to you. However, throughout this confrontation, she tries to block your questions. Thus, your new momentary motivation is somehow get this information out of her. Once she delivers the truth, your motivation will then change to discovering why she lied to. Within this scenario, your motivation will change at least three times.

Acting Based on Motivation

There are many acting books dedicated to performing based on a character’s motivation. While I agree with many of these techniques, I feel that a true and pure performance comes from acknowledging the character’s motivation, but using this information wisely. If we performed every scene based on the primary motivation of a character, the scenes would be so high-strung and loud it wouldn’t be enjoyable. Rather, perform your scene with the motivation in the back of your mind and instead focus your character’s attention on the roadblocks and current situations. By not fully acting based on motivation, but rather allowing this motivation to act as a current in your acting stream, you can deliver a multi-dimensional performance.

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