Motivation that can tell a character’s story

Last night, I was watching NCIS, Bull, and NCIS: New Orleans, which is CBS‘s usual Tuesday night line up of shows. There was a big theme that ran through two of the three shows and that was motivation for a character. The biggest one of the three that showed the theme was Bull.

The story that Bull was showing viewers was a husband, who had ran the family broke, had been killed and his beloved wife was blamed for his death. Granted, the family that this family belonged to were rich. The only clue was a voicemail that the husband left for his wife saying that he was sorry. The prosecution was stating that the voicemail was clearing that the wife had motivation for killing her husband. Since he had gambled away most of the family wealth away and this left the family scrambling for funds. Whereas Jason Bull listened to the voicemail and interrupted it as a suicide note saying that he was sorry for he had done and no matter he could not undo what he had done to his wife and family. Further clues showed that the dearly departed hired a hitman to kill him and that he had also taken out a life insurance policy, however, if it was found out that the husband died of suicide the insurance company would not pay out the policy. However, based on this evidence that was presented to the wife, she was willing to go to jail since she knew that the insurance money that was needed for their daughter would not be paid out if it came out in court about the suicide. However, in some families, if suicide ever came out it would put a dark cloud on the family name. So there were two possible motivations for the wife’s actions, one side would argue that yes, she would go to jail and hide the truth so that her daughter could get the money to pay for school/ living expenses. On the other side, the wife’s actions would be that she didn’t want a black cloud to hang over the family name due to the manner in which her husband had died.

Now, I won’t give the ending away, but I will say that should we always look for two possible solutions for how a character acts? I’ll make a case that as writers, yes, we should, for depending on how the possible solution goes we could find ourselves with a surprise, that we later reveal to our readers. We are told that we should always keep our readers guessing in that they should not know everything until the end. I totally agree with that perspective; however, we should give information to other characters so that they are also kept on their toes as to what is going on, the only change to this that I would state that there should be at least two characters that know that is going on. Well, it wouldn’t be fair for one character to hold all the cards. Wouldn’t it?

There is no better example of this than in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, when Luke reveals all that he knows about his family to Leia. Leia keeps this to herself until the very end when she tells Han, that Luke is her brother. Granted, we never find out if she tells him that Vader is her father. But we can only assume that she does at some point. Well, come one she sort of has to after all they do get married at some point. Her motivation in telling Han was simple in that she loved him and she didn’t want to lose him to his pride and that he thought that she had feelings for her brother. But on the other hand, could her motivation in telling him had been that keeping the secret was somewhat killing her? Granted, she and Han had just finished with a battle to save the Ewok population on the forest moon of Endor, and she was shot, which could have been more serious if the shot was closer to the heart. Yes, we know that it was the latter but it was fun to through in a monkey wrench in the way that you were thinking.

We are always told that when it comes to crime the person must have a motive for committing the crime and that there has to be a possible motive. So why not turn the phrase that every character has a motive for they do and that motive should have two possible reasons why it is there. Furthermore, could there be two possible outcomes based on the motive that is presented? Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it? As writers, we should always be looking at motives for characters, and furthermore, no character is innocent necessarily.

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