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…
‘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.
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.