Investigating with a motivated dinosaur
A dinosaur came into my classroom a while ago, courtesy of one of my students, Celia. Now, let me make clear right up front that I was teaching “Investigative Methodology For Writers” in an online venue, so that at best, the dinosaur was an E-mail-osaurus Rex.
But he was a useful bugger and I’m glad Celia brought him in. I’ll tell you why.
He was a motivated dinosaur. I named him Celia’s Jurassic Passion.
The class was discussing ‘motives’—real ones and ones crafted in fiction—and the dinosaur was an example Celia used to illustrate the emotions behind a fictional character’s life-long hobby: “A passion so intense that his thinking is temporarily turned off.”
Passion. Habit. Achilles’ Heel. Motive. Internal belief system. In this particular example, this character is tricked into revealing his true identity because of his fascination with dinosaurs. He couldn’t stay away from a specific prehistoric exhibit. This one last shred of his real self gives him away.
Fiction, you say?
Naw. Really happens, says I, the retired private detective.
It’s all about learning what makes a person tick: motivations
One of the interesting things about a character, or a person’s, personal motivations is that it’s often a key issue both in fiction writing and real-life investigative work. It’s life imitating art, and art imitating life. It’s also why scientists have noted our deepest beliefs and passions as stemming from our “lizard brain,” the oldest part of our brain system responsible for our survival instincts, our fears, or, as Psychology Today succinctly puts it: “fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing-up, and fornication.”
In the case of Celia’s Jurassic Passion, we have a unique flavor of motive that works well for a private detective and damned beautifully for a writer. It’s that one unattainable, almost instinctual desire that drives a writer’s protagonist or antagonist. It hones a conflict line down to primal depths. It keeps a reader turning pages (or swiping the page, if it’s an e-book).
For the PI, it’s the road sign saying: He Went Thataway.
In any really good PI work, an investigator has to climb deeply into the psyche of subject of the investigation. She has to do more than find out the facts. She has to understand what motivated the subject to lie, to steal, to philander, to connive, to run. To fight, freeze-up, or fornicate. She has to know what drives him, and what drives him is called internal motivation.
The best motivations are deep and all consuming
And it has to be something strong enough, deep enough, to make him go against the norm. To take the risk. To take it all with him or, conversely, leave it all behind.
In an effort not to violate the dictums of “believable characters,” many writers want to choose more mundane motivations. One hundred per cent plausible, believable motivations. A drunk driver mows down Alphonse’s granny in the middle of Main Street, so Alphonse goes on a rampage against all drunk drivers.
But after ten-plus years as a private investigator, I can tell you that it’s not the logic or the believability of the motive that is the crux, but the intensity. I have seen people take actions for some remarkably stupid reasons, in my estimation.
But to them, those reasons were everything, and were so intense “their thinking was temporarily turned off.” Their own Jurassic Lizard-Brained Passion.
Intensity is what fuels the motivation.
Because the motives are, for the most part, as instinctual and primal as, well, a dinosaur living deep in the very beginnings of our psyche. And they’re often just a beastly.
Many writers develop only lofty, altruistic and logical motives or internal desires for their characters in the hope that the noble goal is universally understood. In my humble estimation, those writers are missing out on one of the most fascinating elements of the human psyche. Our ability to defy reason, ignore logic, damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead because we are so blindsided by our passions, our internal primal code-sets, we can see no other way of responding.
Give me Grieving Alphonse who isn’t raging against drunk drivers but against television weather reporters, because before he sunk into grief, Alphonse was a techno-phobe. And to Alph, it was the TV weather report on that damned electronic box that made Granny leave her humble home that day, and cross the street to buy an umbrella. The drunk driver is simply, in Alphonse’s primal and passionate mind, a bit player.
And illogic adds heat to the flame
As a reader, a passionately illogical internal motive gives me the better hook, the better twist, the bigger surprise factor when all is finally revealed on the last page.
It also, whether I like it or not, draws me into a shared identity with the character. We all have our Jurassic Passions buried somewhere inside. Our deeply held fears, hates, and desires. And these stem from our passions. The one thing we cannot live with. The one thing we cannot live without.
As an investigator for over a decade in Florida, I sought out suspects’ motives as my pinpoint flashlight on a roadmap through the winding, bumpy terrain of misinformation. As a writer, you can develop a character’s motives and passions as a pinpoint flashlight to zig and zag your reader over a similar emotional terrain.
It’s been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s only fitting, then, that the guy driving the bus to hell is none other than E-mail-osaurus Rex, your friendly and illogical Jurassic Passion.
Learn more about Jurassic passions, conflict and how to write truly motivated characters.
Join Linnea for her class INSIDE OUT: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict with Linnea Sinclair starting November 7, here at SavvyAuthors!
Winner of the prestigious national book award, the RITA®, author Linnea Sinclair is a name synonymous for high-action, emotionally intense, character-driven novels. Starlog magazine calls Sinclair “one of the reigning queens of science fiction romance.” Her books have claimed spots in the Locus Top Ten and received starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly.
Sinclair, a former news reporter and retired private detective, resides in Naples, Florida with her husband and their thoroughly spoiled cats. Readers can find her at www.linneasinclair.com.