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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Making Motives Matter

I felt like starting with alliteration, so there. That's my literary contribution for today.

Motives in a mystery matter, and not just to the villain. Let's look at your List of Possible Suspects, those sorry souls who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up under the authorities', or sleuth's, microscope.

What would give someone a reason to murder? Not that he actually carries out the deed, mind you, but something that could make our suspect sit for a moment and dream up ways to "off" someone. I've started a list.

1. Revenge: A dish best served cold. Plenty of murder mysteries have a villain who's nursed a long grudge until finally that last insult, that last wound pushes him over the edge. Or, perhaps not, but one of your suspects may have thought about it. Maybe he confessed this secret desire to the wrong person, or had a public confrontation with the future victim. How else could a vengeful person look guilty, especially if he hasn't carried out his plan?

2. Passion: "If I can't have you, then no one will." This can also be linked to motive #1. A spurned lover or suitor's misguided romantic notions can spill into obsession that kept our poor victim looking over her shoulder…but never expecting the true killer. And what if the former suitor changed his ways? What if he's gotten over our poor murdered victim? Maybe her family's the first to jump on the bandwagon to have him questioned.

3. Money or Possessions: Someone else has it. The suspect wants it--badly. Enough to kill for it, perhaps? Note: In the world of a cozy, this could be something very simple, but believable. Did Maisie poison Great-Aunt Betty to get her prize recipe collection? Is that enough reason for murder? Only the writer can make it so.

4. Knowledge of Secrets. "The Man Who Knew Too Much." This can make for a great cat-and-mouse chase in a story. However, if our poor victim knew a suspect's deep dark secret—perhaps something that could make him lose reputation, position, or livelihood—now that could be a reason for murder. What if our suspect tries to keep covering up this secret, only making himself look guiltier all the while?

I invite you to share what you've discovered about suspects. What makes a person guilty, but not of the crime that's been committed? The list can be endless.

Sprinkle these scenarios throughout your story and you'll keep readers wondering. These are the first ideas I came up with, but I encourage you to sit down and brainstorm your suspects' motivations. Everyone's got a secret, even the retired piano teacher next door. Is that flower bed in her back yard really a new hobby? Did her husband really go on vacation? Hmm…

Don't forget our July contest. Leave a comment letting us know you are interested and you could win a free chapter critique by a published author.

Happy writing!


Blogger Ron Estrada said...

In Agatha Christie's "And then there were none," justice is the motive. The antag is a slighty twisted judge who invites 9 people to an island, all who had "gotten away" with a crime. It's a classic.

In our modern society, justice can be served by a religious extremist (yes, even a Christian) who, in his deranged state, sees himself fulfilling God's calling.

Get creative.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Lynette Sowell said...

That's a good one, Ron. To right a perceived (or very real) wrong...

11:09 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

I just started making my list of suspects and so far I've only come up with four with good enough motives. Is there a certain amount of suspects that an editor looks for?

1:42 AM  
Blogger L. Harris said...

Lynette will address this question on Wednesday, Gina!

12:49 PM  

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