Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dec Dare Day 8 - And Secondary Motives

Day 8 - 1088 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 6503 Words.

Learning to hear the internal voices of these characters more, though still not sure of when to switch points of view. I am about to start the trickiest part of this sequence, though.

In the meantime, a little thought about another mystery technique. I was watching one of the old Boris Karloff "Mr. Wong" mysteries, and aside from being relieved that Karloff was not trying to do some tacky Pidgin English, I was struck by how these old quick and cheap movie mysteries display their techniques. They were written and filmed quickly with a strong reliance on cliches and hidden info. I find that when I watch them, I lose track of the story (what story there is) and think about the techniques, and also have flights of fantasy about where it might go.

And often I learn something.

If you write a real puzzle whodunnit - a classic - you have a particular problem. You must play fair, and you must let the suspicion fall on everyone. People feel cheated if it turns out that the butler did it - at least if the butler has not been fairly revealed as a character, with suspicious behavior and motivations and everything.

A more artfully done mystery -- say an Agatha Christie -- might do a better job of covering up the techniques used to fool the reader in spite of all the information given. However, a clunky b-movie allows you to see it in simplified form, like a picture book.

And tonight I was reminded of what a wonderful technique the Secondary Motive is. (They didn't really use it effecitively in the film, but I was reminded of it anyway.)

When you introduce a killer, you have to acknowledge certain fundamental things about his or her nature. It might be ego, or passion, but you have to reveal the essense of their motive so that the ending is satisfying. But you dont have to reveal ALL of it.

A gold-digger is desperate to marry the son of a millionaire. You can tell she doesn't love him, even though she has affection for him. But the kid is disinherited, and she knew it, and she still stands by him. It would seem that she no longer has a motive to kill the young man's father. She can't lay her hands on the money no matter what. Except, of course, that she has some other reason for wanting to marry the kid. Maybe the kid won the lottery, or marrying him can get her out of a legal fix. So she killed the father not because of his millions, but because he stood in the way of the marriage itself.

You have to lay the groundwork on these things, of course, but a secondary motive that is closely related to the first one can be one of the more satisfying ways to twist a story.

Tomorrow (Sunday) I'll probably post an excerpt from something for a new Twitter fad - Sample Sunday. On Sundays now writers will post samples of work on a blog or website somewhere, and then tweet a link. Watch for the hashtag #samplesunday.

(Of course, if you only want to read MY sample, it will be right here, and you won't have to go through Twitter at all.)

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