17 August 2022

Getting Motivated

In detective stories - that section of the mystery world where someone is actually trying to solve a crime - the sleuths often spend some pages pondering the motives of the suspects.  Why would the nanny want to shoot the chiropodist?

This means, of course, that the author has to think about these topics as well.  But not just for the bad guys.  As playwright David Mamet said: In every scene every character has to want something.

So let's talk about the motives of the protagonist, which in our example is the character trying to solve the crime.  Why is she doing that?  Several possibilities come to mind:

* Money.  Private eyes are generally in it for the Benjamins.  So are cops, right?

* Justice.  Our hero is determined to bring the bad guy to court.

* Vengeance. The bad guy killed our hero's partner/mother/cat.  (Not cat!  Readers will scream if you harm an animal!)

* Curiosity/Nosiness/Boredom.  The amateur sleuth is on the case.

* Love/Friendship.  Your sweetie is accused of the crime or is danger from the baddie. 

* Ego.  See how smart I am?

* Self-preservation.  The theme that launched a dozen Hitchcock movies:  Our hero is accused of the crime so she has to figure out whodunit to save her own skin.

Those are the main ones I can think of.  Feel free to add more.   

You may be thinking: Hey, a character might be motivated by more than one of these.  Very observant of you.  As I have written here before, it is naive to think that any person, real or fictional, has only one motive.

This subject has been on my mind because of a story I have in the current issue of Mystery Magazine.  The protagonist of "Kill and Cure" is trying to find out who killed a college student.  He is doing so on behalf of the young man's mother.

Ah, so he's doing it for Money.  Well, not exactly.  He isn't getting paid.  We'll get back to that.

Is his client seeking Justice?  Nope.  She actually wants our hero to kill the man who killed her son.  So her motive is Vengeance. 

But what's in it for the protagonist?  Well, it turns out he's dying and his only chance of survival is getting into a medical trial that the victim's mother is running.  And she will only let him in if he discovers the murderer and kills him.  Oh, did I mention that he is a professional assassin?

So his motive is Self-preservation.  But, of course, things get more complicated...

 It may seem like I am giving away the whole story line.  Trust me, I'm not.  This is just the premise of "Kill and Cure."  I hope it gives you a, uh, motive to read it.



  1. It sounds good with possibilities for disaster on every side!

  2. Talk about stuck in the middle - I'm looking forward to reading it!

  3. The next line of your teaser, Rob: What could go wrong?


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>