Motive is the key.

2014-07-17 17.18.12

My motivation: please Dad and defeat the Archaeologist!

2014-07-17 17.24.10

Die, foul beast!







This week’s flash challenge from Charli Mills is  13 August 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character. 

When the TV first appeared in our house, around 1962 I can remember being disappointed that the first programme was gardening. Percy Thrower I expect. And gardening programmes in black and white are rubbish anyway even if you aren’t five and prefer something a touch more aimed at you.

TV soon came to be the centre of our sitting room and it was from there I was first aware of the concept of ‘motive’. It was during some American cop series and the main characters were always worrying about the motive of the ‘perp’ to show it was first degree murder. Perry Mason or A Man called Ironside or something similar, I suppose. The idea of the motiveless killing didn’t register, clearly.

And there was one episode where I recall the main suspect had said how much he hated the victim, how he would benefit from her death and how he had the opportunity and no alibi. I learnt about the dangers of ascribing motives to people based on the available facts and our own biases.

Often do we fall into that trap. ‘You didn’t call me back therefore you no longer love me’. ‘My battery was flat.’

Now I write books (and flash) and motivation is so important. And we have to ‘show not tell’ (which is utterly impossible but is an old saw handed down to nascent writers by those who should know better and which can be filed under the section marked ‘bollocks’ – ‘m not advocating a return to Dickens to belabour our readers with the inner angst of each character, just a little balance). The danger of attributing a motive is a real one. A pained look might just as easily be the result of last night’s dodgy curry as it is disappointment with someone’s behaviour.

So we need to be careful about how we disclose motivation, which can be devilishly difficult to achieve successfully. When we come across a well crafted example in a book, it is so satisfying (or maybe it’s rather galling, finding someone who has achieved an elusive truth that we are struggling to uncover – I suppose it all depends on your motivation!).

How do I manage it here? It is for you to judge. I’ll make no assumptions…

Motivating Mary

‘Rupert’s contesting the Will?’

‘Yes Mary. He says he and his mother were dependant on your father so should inherit something.’

Mary, her face neutral, seethed inside. Her bloody father and his affair. She couldn’t blame Rupert. He was just feeble.

The lawyer was waiting.

‘We fight.’

The lawyer looked surprised then smiled. Mary glared at him. He only cared about his fee.

She called her husband, Paul, and explained.

‘Well, if you’re sure. I didn’t realise you had it in you. Your Mum would be proud of you.’

Mary said nothing. She wasn’t doing this for her mother.


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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17 Responses to Motive is the key.

  1. lucciagray says:

    Interesting reflection on sibling rivalry. Loved the story. So much information in few words. Well done! And I loved ironside. .. The theme music is unforgettable 🙂


  2. Norah says:

    Well done. I love the continuation of this story and the development of Mary’s character. I like the way you have provided the motivation for many/all of the characters involved – each one different. It’s an interesting development, and one I was expecting. Love the boyish photos and the motivations described. 🙂


  3. Charli Mills says:

    Oooh, I think we are seeing a turning point in Mary. Up until now she’s seemed battered by the waves of the circumstance. But the tides are turning and Mary is pushing back. You continue to write each piece contained unto itself which may benefit you when you go to link these together like pearls in a necklace. Adorable photos and enjoyed your reflection on motivation. Especially enjoyed learning where to file those “old saws.” 🙂 Being a storyteller, I have to agree that there needs to be some telling–balance as you say.


  4. Archaeologist says:

    As ever your posts make me think and reminisce.

    Gardening programmes in black & white, up there with the commentator on a snooker game – ‘for the benefit of those watching in black and white the green ball is behind the blue’ nearly as good as the radio programme, ‘Great Moments from the Silent cinema’, though the latter might be apocryphal.

    The photographs too made me think, walking on the front at Herne Bay, and dad demonstrating how you could swing a bucket full of cockles collected from the beach over your head, and how they would be held in pace by centrifugal force and – being dad – how they didn’t and scattered over the promenade.

    Or playing with water pistols in the garden, looking back I wonder how I never managed to learn about Greek Fire in my reading. The idea of reconstructing an ancient flame thrower would certainly have appealed to me, I wonder if I would have been sensible enough to test it outside?


    • TanGental says:

      I’m laughing so hard it hurts. Dad and the cockles. Yes! Brilliant memory. Poor man. And the greatest moments in silent cinema on radio. Love it. Thanks bruv.


  5. Annecdotist says:

    I totally agree that motivation needs to be subtly present and you’ve probably seen my posts moaning about the way we are lectured on making sure it’s clear what the characters want. I love how you’ve explored this in your flash: the motivation is clearly there but it’s buried in the action. Because it’s subtle, we want to read on to discover whether our hunch about what the characters want is correct. I look forward to seeing where you and Charli will take Mary next.
    Incidentally, my first TV memory is of the first episode of Doctor Who but, having discussed this recently with my older brother, it seems I’ve got some of the details wrong.


    • TanGental says:

      I knew I had read some corking pieces on this topic but true to form I couldn’t remember where. I will now revisit your blog and reacquaint myself. While I’m writing I must just say it astonishes me how you have read such a wide range that every post, every prompt can be tied to a series of works you have read and, as importantly analysed. I think, if you appear in one of my posts you will have to be the Librarian!


  6. English TV was much more sophisticated than ours. We got our set in 1967 and we were allowed to watch the news and one other half hour programme. Father knows Best and The Farmers Daughter were two early ones we watched.
    Again you have written a great flash developing Mary’s character further and certainly showing motivation. I wonder where Charli will take you next.


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