Showing posts with label motivations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label motivations. Show all posts

30 April 2018

Smile and Be a Villain

By sad coincidence, two of our cats died several years apart on April 23, Shakespeare's birthday. Last week, the Bard turned 454 (I didn't send a card) and his plays still merit constant performances the world over. Shakespeare thought he would be remembered for his poems (except for the sonnets, only slightly better than John Dillinger's) and retired at age 47 a relatively wealthy man, especially for a writer.
It's easy to talk about his brilliant images and use of symbols and all that high-school-worksheet stuff, but his plays would live on anyway because he wrote brilliant conflicted characters, especially his villains. He constantly reminds us that everyone needs a goal or motive, especially the bad guys. They aren't just "bad by nature"--although Don John claims that he is in Much Ado About Nothing.

In King Lear, Edmund tells us he's standing up for bastards,
but he's jealous because his little brother Edgar, born of married parents, will inherit Gloucester's estate even though he's younger than Edmund. Jealously and sibling rivalry are powerful forces. Look at the women in the same play: Goneril and Regan want their father Lear's estate, but the younger Cordelia is daddy's favorite...until she can't flatter him enough and he kicks her out with the tragically incorrect proclamation that nothing will come of nothing. Actually, it will lead to at least eight deaths.

The older sibs in both families are monsters, but we understand why they lie, stab servants, commit adultery, scheme against each other, plan to murder their spouses, and tear out Gloucester's eyes. The sins of the fathers live on in the children. Lear may be my favorite Shakespearean play and I'd love to direct it if I thought I could find fourteen strong actors in community theater. Unfortunately, age is a factor for at least three men, and the women are stuck as Goody Two-Shoes and the Bitches, a darker version of Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Macbeth is the only other Shakespeare play still on my directing bucket list (I've directed six)--if I could find an appropriate time period that hasn't been recycled into cliche and decide how to present the witches (I've considered young, nubile, scantily clad and dimly lit because they personify temptation, Macbeth's loss of innocence). Macbeth is a war hero who goes to hell in blank verse because those bearded sisters offer him a tempting look at the future and he makes the mistake of telling his wife. His fall gives us two of my favorite monologues, the "If 'twere done when 'tis done" speech as he contemplates murdering Duncan and the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" tour de force while the walls buckle around him. That speech also gives us "it is a tale full of sound and fury, told by idiot, signifying nothing."

Lady Macbeth is a difficult role to play (I've seen it done badly more often than not), but the actors or directors miss the point. Lady M is the forerunner of the modern groupie, and power is her aphrodisiac. Listen to the rhythms of her "come you spirits of the night" speech and you'll hear her bare her soul.

Iago feels Othello has unfairly passed him over for promotion, so he vows revenge, always a clear motive. He sizes up Othello as a man who loves his wife so much that he will believe the worst, and turns innuendo into high art when he "suggests" that Desdemona and Cassio are intimate. His attention to a handkerchief makes Professor Moriarty and Snidely Whiplash look like Boy Scouts.

I've played Claudius, the adulterous uncle/step-father in Hamlet. He loves Gertrude so much he kills his own brother to be with her, but his futile prayers ("My words fly up, my thoughts remain below./Words without thought never to heaven go.") show he knows he's still going straight to hell.
Hamlet stabs him with the envenomed epee and pours the poisoned chalice down his throat (talk about overkill) to hasten him on his way. His "Oh, my offense is rank! It smells to heaven" speech is  as powerful as his stepson's monologues, but seldom quoted.

Technically, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice isn't a villain so much as a victim, but he makes his case to Antonio and Bassanio when they "cut" the deal for Antonio's pound of flesh. "You call me misbeliever, cut-throat, dog, / And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine..."
Rehearsal shot (note unpainted floor) from my 2006 Merchant

They don't write them like that anymore.

'Tis true, 'tis pity, and, pity 'tis, 'tis true.

As a footnote, tonight is Walpurgisnacht, the night the demons walk. It's the night the lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream wander in the woods before getting everything sorted out for their weddings along with Theseus on May Day.

And, as BSP, my story "The Girl in the Red Bandanna" appears in the latest issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, along with a story by our late blog partner, B. K. Stevens.

09 December 2017

On Motivation

Libby Cudmore
A good detective always keeps the “Why” close at hand. What’s the motive for the crime? Why kill, rob, torture or maim? Until the detective figures out why the crime was committed, he/she will never be able to solve the case.

But the writer also has a big “Why” to answer: Why their detective drawn to the case in the first place.

When I teach mystery writing workshops, it’s the issue I see the most often in beginners’ manuscripts. The writer has a detective, usually an amateur, who plunges into the case without any experience or knowledge of how crimes are actually solved, and from there, it’s a series of coincidences and luck that lead to a conclusion. But let’s be real—if any of us came across a dead body/broken bank vault/bloody, half-conscious victim, our first instinct would be to scream and call the police, not embark on a quest to put the perpetrator behind bars on our own.

09 November 2015

Notes on Writing

I've been reading a couple of books on writing to see if something I read can motivate me. One that honestly touched me is what Stephen King wrote after he was injured so severely when he was hit by a van while he was taking a walk.

Mr. King had undergone surgeries and was still doing rehab and still in a wheelchair when he thought he might get back to writing. He wasn't really able to sit up much more than forty minutes at any one time without hurting. He states that he wasn't exactly raring to get back to writing, due to his pain level and incapacitation but a little voice in the back of his head kept telling him it was time.

Actually, writing had helped him through tough situations in the past. He wife, Tabby, was the deciding vote. She rigged up a writing area for him in the hall outside the pantry. Told him there were several electrical plug ins there, for his printer, MacBook and a fan. Since it was summer, even in Maine there was a need for a fan.

Tabitha rolled him to his little nest, kissed him on the forehead and left him to his work. That first session lasted an hour and forty minutes. The longest he'd been upright since his accident with Mr. Smith's van. Steve said he was sweaty and tired but happy too because he'd been productive. Thank goodness he realized he needed to keep writing to keep sane. Think of all the great books we would have missed if he had given up then.

Another book I read portions of was How To Write A Mystery by Larry Beinhart. I read a chapter on plotting. My books are usually character driven rather than plot driven. Mr. Beinhart did give me a better understanding of a plot. He divided plots into two categories. The first is as "The Contest" and the second as "The Journey." Yet he says that's not entirely true, because variations, exceptions, shadings, etc. can be involved. 

The Journey is simple enough. The hero has a problem and he keeps plugging away until he comes up with a solution. The Contest is between two opponents...good verses evil. A variation can add other people going after the same prize. 

I enjoy reading books about writing. Maybe they fail to motivate me as I hope but I almost always learn something from them. Sometimes reading fiction can help motivate me.

Have to mention reading our own Melissa Yi's upcoming book, Stockholm Syndrome. Melissa is an Emergency Room Physician in Montreal, Canada. The book is a tension filled medical thriller of two doctors, one crazed gunman and one lady in the late stages labor. Ms Yi's description of the background and the action ring true to me. I'm a retired diagnostic and radiation therapy technician and have watched several live births. The book is due out on December 1st and I highly recommend it.

26 May 2014

The End

Jan Grape
The beginning of your book is where your ending starts.  Yes, class, I know that sounds weird but think about it for a minute. I hope that you have your main character find a body or get notified there's a body. Someone likely needs to be killed in the first chapter or at least in the first fifty pages of your book. Of course, maybe your mystery isn't a murder mystery but a kidnapping or a bank robbery or a thriller where someone important is about to be killed.  If so, that's fine. Whatever your book is, and it might even been a romantic suspense or a futuristic suspense, the beginning of your book is where your ending starts.
The first chapter or chapters presents the problem. Something bad has happened or is going to happen and your main character is going to have to take care of the problem. Solve the murder, find the robbers, win the girl or the guy, whatever. Your book is going to open with the main character having a vested interest somehow, come hell or high water, making sure he or she wins the day. That's what I mean by saying your ending starts with the beginning.

Immediately you want to give your main character an emotional reason to solve the case or in the case of a police character or a private eye, it's the job and they won't get paid unless the case is solved. It's more meaningful to the reader,, however even if the investigator gets paid, that the main reason to go all out is somehow there's emotional involvement. The victim is someone known to the main character or to another character who is close to the main character. Or the baby kidnapped belongs to the sister of the protagonist. Or the bank robbery is taking place where the main character's mother works. Something that makes it important to the main character.

The way you get from the beginning to the ending is by writing an exciting and intriguing middle. And I won't spend much time talking about that because that's your story.  I just thought I'd tell you a little bit that I've learned about endings.

Honestly, I think most of you know how to write great endings. I have read two or three best-selling authors who, in my opinion, never learned how to end a book. And no, I'm not going to name names because that's not what this article is about. Maybe one day later I'll do an article on that… NOT.

So, you've got your great beginning and you've told your reader why this mystery must be solved.  Once you've built intrigue and peopled your book with dynamic characters and led them through great scenery and intrigues for the middle portion of your story. You've thrown one complication after another at your main character, it's time to build the final climax and end the book.

You've led your reader down one path and then another and you finally know whodunit you must remember this is the make or break point. You want your readers to feel satisfied, that justice prevailed. My all time belief is that one reason mysteries are so popular is because the bad guy or gal loses. Good guy or gal wins the day and that doesn't happen often enough in real life. We want to see justice.

So bring your main character to the point of no return. The last complication paints your protagonist into a corner where it looks like there is absolutely no way out. The tension and suspense need to build to the highest ever. He or she knows it's time to face the bad guy, but do you go the easy way or the hard way. You'd likely be better off to choose the hard way because your reader is going to throw your book across the room when they read that last line if not. They have been with you all the way and they want a satisfying ending. They don't want the case handed to the protagonist on a silver platter. But somehow the right solution is there for the main character to show the reader and to stop a miscarriage of justice. You don't necessarily have to kill the bad guy although there is a lot of satisfaction in that, especially if the bad guy is really evil. But stopping the villain from leaving by tackling and handcuffing and calling for police can also be satisfying.

Be sure you've covered the motivation of the villain. Most bad guys aren't one hundred percent bad. A redeeming quality makes them more real. You might even feel a little sorry as you put on the handcuffs but then again, maybe not. The villain may not need to tell the main character why they killed the victim but somewhere along the line that motivation came up. Maybe in a diary or journal or on the personal computer your main character found and read before the villain caught your main character.

Be sure you cover the motivation of your main character. Their emotional involvement has been there all throughout the book, even if just to get a big payday or a big promotion or win the love of a lifetime. Don't forget to tie up loose ends. You may have to do this with the main characters side-kick or best pal or love interest. Mainly remember you only want this final bit to be short and sweet, only a few pages long. You want to let the reader know that the main character gets the big payday or promotion or the love of a lifetime.

Then the last line or paragraph can be the pat on the back or the check to put in the bank or the main character gets a kiss and loving embrace. It's always nice if your last line can have a touch of humor.
Thanks for listening, class, now let's all go have a glass of wine.