Saturday, October 17, 2020

Hidden Motives

As my colleagues and I have said these are strange, surreal times. Working at home, I sometimes forget what day it is. Friday felt like the weekend. It was my day to post, but I completely forgot because I was trying to get my cat to eat (stomach upset) while grading midterm exams and watching the clock because at 2 pm EDT (11 am PDT), I was going to be on a virtual Bouchercon panel. 

Today, Harry, my cat, finally got hungry enough to eat some of the chicken breast I had cooked for him and then some of his wet food. I made progress on the midterms I've been grading. I watched the Bouchercon Anthony awards, and then I decided to do a quick post here before getting a little more work done. 

I had a breakthrough today as I was listening to a Bouchercon panel on the "villain" in crime fiction. The authors were discussing the importance of making the villain a complex character. This is something I have thought about and have been trying to do as I plod along with my historical thriller. It is the most difficult book I've ever tried to write. I'm sure I'll be able to finish the first draft of my sixth Lizzie Stuart mystery before I get through the first draft of the thriller. 

I've thought about it. I've made multiple starts. Tried first-person narration by multiple characters. Tried third-person POVs and a mix of the two. Began in February and gone forward through 1939. Began in the middle and tried flashbacks. 

If I didn't want to tell this story so much I would have given up long ago. 

But today, while listening to the Bouchercon panel and working on something else, I had a thought. The problem is my "hero" not my villain. I have make my hero too upright, too pure of heart. He is angry. That is what is motivating him, not his belief in truth, justice, and the American way. He wants revenge against the villain for an old wrong. He wants to bring him down. He is lying to himself when he tells himself he is only interested in learning what the villain is up to and stopping him from carrying out his dastardly plot. He wants to bring him down, to pay him back. That's what I should be plotting toward -- that moment when he confronts his rage and has a choice.

Like real people, complex characters have layers, parts of themselves they try to bury because they are afraid of what would happen if they didn't. That's what I need to focus on. I need to push each of my main characters to the limit until they are confronting not only each other but their own demons. 

With the realization, I'm feeling more hopeful that I can pull this off. I even know who has to die. 

And I know where I should begin.

Fingers crossed, but I think it will work.




Anna said...

Your hero who is motivated not by a pure heart but by pure anger sounds entirely relatable. Looking forward to coming along on the journey of this many-layered interesting guy,

Anna said...
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Tanya said...

Frankie, your outline of your thought processes about your character was a great look at the layers of character in fiction and how that shapes the action. On a personal note, please take your beautiful boy Harry to the vet if his appetite is off. Lack of appetite can be a sign of many things, from infections to kidney problems to cancer. I recently lost one of my beautiful fur-babies in spite of good vet care and all the TLC I could give. It's important to respond to signs of anything being "off" as soon as you observe it because cats hide their symptoms so well. Wishing you both health and happiness!