Character Payoff

In the ongoing quest to streamline my writing development process, I’ve decided to add another dimension to what I use to development character Plot/Story Lines.

Below is what I’ve used for the past couple years and it has served me well.

  • Goal
  • Motive
  • Stakes
  • Anchor
  • Secret
  • Conflict
  • Plan
  • Dilemma

I think it’s pretty solid. So In my latest iteration, nothing is being changed or taken away, I’m just adding the dimension of Payoff.

What is Character Payoff?

Basically, a Payoff is a perceived benefit you get, either Physically, Mentally, or Spiritually, out of doing or not doing something.

I recently wrote a blog post, Suicide by Life, where I briefly talked about Payoffs in real life situations. Since Payoffs are a natural dimension of Human life, I figured why not add it to my character’s lives?

A lot of other story/character development methods already have this in place, usually instead of a Character Goal, because Payoffs and Goals can sometimes seem one in the same. I see them as two different things though, two different dimensions characters pull from.

How is Character Payoff different from a Character Goal?

  • Goal: What do they want?
  • Motive: Why do they want it?
  • Payoff: What do they get if they succeed?
  • Stakes: What do they lose if they fail?
  • Anchor: Why can’t they give up?
  • Secret: What don’t they want anyone to know about their goal?
  • Conflict: What’s hindering them from achieving their goal?
  • Plan: How will they achieve their goal?
  • Dilemma: What part of their plan are they conflicted about and why?

As you can see above, for me, a character’s Goal is what they want and their Payoff is what they get through achieving their Goal. In an example, I see it like this:

  • Goal: Kill the Grand Master
  • Motive: He killed my brother
  • Payoff: Watching him take his last breath


  • Goal: Become friends with Lisa
  • Motive: She’s the coolest girl at school
  • Payoff: Her paying attention to me

As I said earlier, for me, Payoffs along side Goals add another level of drive to my characters. Another reason to do what they do or are about to do.

Also I really like it because, as a creator, it forces me to think about what my characters get out of achieving their goals, which can get really deep or shallow. Even something like:

  • Goal: Save the world from alien invasion.

Then ask your character what they get out of it? What do they get out of saving the world? Something I want to note is that, What they “get” should be something they don’t currently possess. So the payoff can’t be “saving millions of innocent lives” because the lives are not “lost”. Also, the more personal the Payoff, the better.

Well, that’s my take on it. What’s yours?


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