Monday, June 3, 2013

Why Did You Do That?


Congratulations to "Mary P.", the winner of Allison's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated!

All the good writing books talk about “goals, motivation and conflict” in fiction. What does the character want, why does the character want it, and why can’t the character have it.

To me, goals and conflict are the easier parts of the equation. Especially in romantic suspense where one of the goals is always to solve a crime or stop a bad guy. Of course there are other goals, but it’s always easier when you have the big one taken care of. And conflict is also easier in crime fiction, at least in my opinion.

Motivation, on the other hand, is often neglected or glossed over. And to me, motivation is what makes characters real. Strong, believable motivation is what makes a good book great.

I think a lot about motivation when I write because motivation can change sentiment about a character from love to hate, from respect to despise. Motivation can be small, such as taking a job we dislike because we have to pay the mortgage; or large, such as taking a job to undercover unethical or illegal business practice, maybe because those illegal practices cost a loved one their life.

Consider a thief. On the surface, we don’t like thieves. They steal other people’s stuff for their own personal gain, often causing hardship for the victim. I’m sure many of us have been robbed, either something small (car radio—I’ve had three stolen in my lifetime) or large (our identity, for example, or every valuable item in our home. My credit card number has been taken I don’t know how many times, at least five, and while I file all the papers and get my money back through the bank’s fraud unit, think of the additional costs we all pay in higher fees because of the greed of others.)

But what if the thief was trying to right a wrong? Taking from a bad guy to give to the good guys? (Robin Hood anyone?) Or what if the thief needed the money to pay for his daughter’s operation? Or to steal a weapon that fell into the wrong hands? The act may in and of itself be wrong, and the character may need to face punishment for his crimes, but if we want readers to like the character, then we need to give them a motivation that readers understand and relate to. Especially if the character doing the bad thing is your hero or heroine.

I thought a lot about motivation while writing STOLEN. STOLEN is the sixth book in my Lucy Kincaid series, which follows FBI recruit Lucy and her P.I. boyfriend Sean Rogan. STOLEN is really Sean’s story, as his past comes back to bite him in the ass. Sean doesn’t have a squeaky clean past, but he’s always managed to wiggle out of trouble. He was a hacker and a thief, so I had to make sure that why he was committing these crimes in college was believable. It wasn’t the crime itself, or even who he stole from, but the impetus of his actions. Why he went down that path in the first place had to do with being vilified by the FBI and his brother when he hacked into his college system and exposed a pedophile. Like Tony Stark of IRONMAN fame, Sean exposed his professor boldly and without remorse and made a lot of enemies in the process.

That act, and the reaction of his college, his brother, and the FBI, sent Sean down a precarious path in college. To me, it gave him the motivation he needed to cross lines that maybe he shouldn’t have crossed.

Motivation for villains is just as important. I don’t like stereotypical villains who kill for the sake of killing, or rape blondes because his prostitute mother was a blonde. I want meat to their motivation – even if I don’t agree with it. Why do they do what they do? Are they conflicted? Why? Do they have remorse or are they a true sociopath? How do they justify their actions? I often give a workshop called the Villain’s Journey taken from a line in Christopher Vogler’s The Writers Journey: “The villain is the hero of his own journey.”

Yes, yes, yes. And because of that, I know that the villain’s motivation is just as important as any other character – in fact, more important because they are the foundation of any suspense novel. A good villain makes the story. As Vogler said, the villain must be worthy of the hero – and likewise, the hero must be worthy of the villain. This is why epic stories like THE AVENGERS and IRON MAN 3 and STAR TREK all have such compelling villains. Take Kahn in the STAR TREK. He was created to be the perfect soldier. He was created to fight. Everything he did was to save his brothers and sisters. He didn’t have compassion or remorse for what he did; he did it because he felt his cause was just. He’s smarter, stronger, more driven than anyone else. In THE AVENGERS, Loki was the spoiled, jealous illegitimate brother of Thor. He’s, essentially, having a temper tantrum, but he does it with power and humor and, again, intelligence.

Stupid villains are no fun.

I could write an entire series of blogs on THE FOLLOWING, the television show starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. The motivations of each character is pivotal to every decision they make. The writers truly understood the need for strong motivations, not just for their villains, but for their heroes. When you’re dealing with a large cast, it’s easy to ignore motivation for the secondary characters, but this show didn’t skimp. It didn’t only focus on Ryan Hardy and Joe Carroll—the writers gave each character a strong enough motivation to make them real.

And that’s the key: if the motivation is real, the characters become real, too.

What are some strong motivations you’ve seen on television or read about in books? Weak motivations? Share your thoughts! I’m giving away one copy of STOLEN, digital or print, to a lucky commenter.

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST June 4th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email maureen@justromanticsuspense.com with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.

45 comments:

  1. Good advice, Allison. Too often the villains are merely evil caricatures with no motivation. Giving them and the good guys equally strong motives makes for a strong story. Thanks for posting this--we all need these ideas.

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  2. Thanks for the thought provoking positions on this topic. Nothing frustrates me more than a story about a diabolical villain where we don't get a least some credible suppositions as to the killer's motives. One of the reasons (I think) many are unusually interested in serial killers is because of our need to understand motivation...there has to be an answer that makes sense to us or otherwise our view of order is imbalanced.

    My husband and I recently finished watching the BBC series Luther and think the writers have done a brilliant job of creating the kind of conflicts around the series' hero(es). We are fascinated by not only the series but our own reactions to it. We are anxiously waiting for the next season as much to enjoy the show as to continue exploring our own positions.

    Thanks for a really great post!

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    1. I love LUTHER! One of the best, more complex, well-written crime shows out there. I love the twists and that the bad guys are hugely complex, as well as Luther himself. He's not perfect, but you understand his actions. Love him. :)

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    2. Okay...I can admit we love Luther (the character), too. And his relationship with his little red-haired psychopath is just extraordinary:)

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    3. Forgot my email.

      Jonettaallen77 at yahoo dot com

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  3. The Following is simply incredible - it is amazing how each and every character has their own complex motivations.

    I agree that it is very important for the villain's motivation to be clear. I recently read "Blindsighted" by Karin Slaughter and while the story was excellent, the killer's motivation is ambiguous - is a simply a psychopath or someone bent on revenge. The killer himself seems to be in denial over his actions.

    Lauren
    ljberma01(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. I've read a lot of Slaughter's books and enjoy them, but I haven't read that one. As far as THE FOLLOWING -- I could write a book about that television show and why it's a must watch for writers!

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  4. I stopped watching The Following after a while. I sometimes felt we never see/feel how Joe Carroll is this super charismatic guy that has his followers killing for him.

    janie1215 AT excite DOT com

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    1. Interesting ... I had the opposite feeling. When Joe went to prison, he had some groupies (common for serial killers and other predators.) He was exactly who they needed him to be. They were all damaged and twisted in some way, and he manipulated them. Maybe because *we* wouldn't be sucked in by his manipulation, we didn't see how the others were.

      I didn't love the first two episodes, and almost didn't watch the series, but caught up one day and was hooked. I'm going to watch it again this summer!

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    2. Oh, and about the halfway point we meet Roderick, who sees Joe for who he is, and it makes for an amazing conflict between Roderick who's been keeping things running while Joe's been in prison, and Joe. Roderick is practical and focused, Joe is more "romantic" and doesn't quite know what to do with the community he created.

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    3. I did enjoy the show for a while, but ultimately didn't see what really motivated these people to become followers of Joe.

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  5. perceived injustice

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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  7. Motivation is key for me for a believeable story whether the killer or bad guy is out for revenge or is fixated on the heroine or hero. I'm reading Debra Webb's Faces of Evil series and I love the interaction between Jess and her crazy stalker Eric.
    Judi
    boomer21(at)rogers(dot)com

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  8. I agree 100%. Motivation is key to a great romantic suspense. It's the springboard that keeps the characters fresh and interesting, giving the reader that glimpse into why they're striving to achieve the goal. Great post!

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    1. Thanks Kathy! I've been thinking a lot about motivation as I'm writing the 7th book in Lucy's series ... because I want to keep things interesting and fresh, but without my character's rehashing the same problems. So they're moving to a new city and will be stronger together, but also have issues like not being around family (a problem for Lucy), starting a new job, being unemployed (for Sean) and different personalities in the FBI office. It's going to be fun!

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  9. A strong motivator is protecting loved ones. I see this on television & in books quite a lot.

    A great post thank you.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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    1. Absolutely -- that's why romantic suspense is so popular, because when someone you love is in danger, the stakes are automatically raised. But this also works for siblings, children, and parents in jeopardy.

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  10. Thanks for the great post! I never really thought of it that way... haven't seen the following, don't watch a lot of TV but I the only show that I can' think of that motivation makes or breaks characters is Game of Thrones which I'm watching right now :) Each character has their own reasons, good and bad and the outcomes are surprising...

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    1. Oh, I can't wait to see it! My daughter and I are having a marathon this summer ... we just have to find the time to watch all three seasons!

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  11. okay, this is really off the wall, but have you ever watched the bachelorette? Doesn't there always seem to be this guy or two, namely one, who is this royal jackass, that has the girl completely conned. He's like the total real-life villan, funny how the chick rarely figures it out, she makes all her dumb mistakes about him, and it drives everyone mad and at the same time everyone just loves to hate the guy. If the show didn't have him, or somehow didn't manage to keep him around, would it be half as interesting? Would it a love story make? Would the tabloids become droll and whither away? okay, so you're asking where the suspense is...the final rose. Cheers! more red wine anyone? (Maureen has my email.)

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    1. LOL Daco ... I don't watch reality TV, but I do enjoy reading my friend's twitter feeds during the Bachelor and the Bachelorette!

      All fiction needs a villain. Not just romantic suspense. Without an antagonist, it's boring and you don't really care what happens to the characters.

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  12. I am in the middle of the latest Harlen Coben thriller and motivation is everything in that book. That is what makes us turn the page. Your book sounds terrific. Thanks for the giveaway.


    Janet B

    jkbsfsd @ msn.com

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    1. Harlen Coben is a master, I totally agree.

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  13. Hi Allison,
    I really enjoy your posts & your books. Every time I read a book or watch a movie the parts I find most interesting are the motivations.
    I found The Following did a good job of this & the ending was surprising.

    Could you tell me where I can find information that you have out on the Villain's Journey because I would really be interested in reading this.

    Thanks for the giveaway,
    Jan

    janet_kerr(at)msn.com

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    1. Hi Jan -- I strongly recommend THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler. If you can find the second edition, that's the one I have and like (I have the new 3rd edition, but I don't like it as much -- they put in too much extraneous information and examples and made it more complex than it needs to be.)

      The Power of the Dark Side by Pamela Smith (also a writer's digest book) is also pretty good, and I also love Save the Cat, but that doesn't deal directly with villains (though it does with story conflict.)

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  14. I love the TV series Revenge. Amanda (aka Emily) has the motivation to bring everyone who was involved in sending her wrongly accused father to prison and destroying her life, to justice. So far in the two seasons that Revenge has aired, Amanda has dished out her punishments accordingly to crimes that her enemies have committed against her father and her. There are moments when Emily wanted to forgive her enemies but when they attacked the people she cares and loves, her resolve hardened that her enemies do not deserved forgiveness. She continues her master plan to bring down her enemies. After all, revenge is the dish that is best served cold and Emily is the only one who can deliver it.

    kmccandle(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. I haven't watched the series yet ... it's on my list. I might have to put it to the top soon!

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  15. I don't watch any of the shows that you mentioned but I do understand how motivation leads thing. I could be in the suspense or in the romance part. I love your books and look forward to reading this one. I would love to win, thanks for the chance...lsscarchuk@att.net

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  16. LONGMIRE -- Just began it's second season on A&E. Great motivations for the characters...but the mystery that we don't know what they are. Every character introduced to the cast has secrets.
    ~Angi

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    1. I love LONGMIRE! The acting is fabulous, it's as much about what they DON'T say as what they DO say. And I love Vic's character. She's such a bundle of angry energy, she does a great job of keeping her character real. I hope they do more with her this season.

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  17. A strong motivation is for the sake of those who we love. We always take into account the fact that well-being of our family is of paramount importance; and therefore we need to contribute positively to the lives of our beloved. One example from tv could be Dallas. There we have a competition of wealthy families willing to protect their children and their heritage. A weak motivation, conversely, is something that doesn't make us better people, but makes our relations with other people deteriorating. When someone turns to crime for income, I guess. So many movies depict this kind of behaviour.
    beatrix2355(AT)yahoo(DOT)com

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    1. Absolutely! Family is always a powerful motivator, and something that readers can relate to.

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  18. Great post! I have yet to read any of your books, but love romantic suspense. Some books I have read have such good motivation behind their villain that I sometimes feel bad for the evil villain. Although, usually in the end they deserve what they get. A strong motivation is usually the emotional ones where the villain almost can't help what he/she is doing. A weak motivation for me is usually one that is for money or power. That is usually at the top of the drug lord type ones though. I do still enjoy those but it is easier to hate the bad guys. I now need to go check out your books. Thanks for the giveaway option!

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    1. Always forget my email - amy at remus dot net

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    2. Thanks Amy! :) I agree -- money and power are common, because they're true to real life. Villains with more powerful motives, especially if they weren't always bad people, are much more interesting to both read about and write about.

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  19. I like to see depth in characters... seeing how things come about whether their choices are wrong or right, imagined or real... what makes them be the way they are and how things in their lives affect them and those around them. Thanks for sharing!

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  20. This was a great post and, as usual, you make me think! I don't watch the shows y'all have been discussing because I'm a sports nut and usually watch whatever game is on TV. Unless it's my husband's night to pick and then it's Discovery or Military or Nat Geo...

    In between, I'm reading as much romantic suspense as I can!

    kacbooks(at)hotmail(dot)com

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    1. I love baseball and football! Go Giants! :) LOL.

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  21. I enjoyed your post very much, Allison. Character motivation is such a key element to connecting the reader to the story.

    I'm also a fan of THE FOLLOWING. I sat riveted to the TV before every episode.

    Thanks for the giveaway.
    maggietoussaint(at)darientel(dot)net

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