What’s The Motivation, Part One – The Antagonist

John climbed into bed.

Not much of a story. Certainly not very interesting.

John climbed into bed with Sarah.

Okay, a bit more interesting. We don’t know Sarah’s reaction.

John climbed into bed with Sarah, which was against her parents’ orders to never see each other again.

Now we have a story! Are her parents at home? Will they walk in on them? Did he sneak in, break in, climb in through an open window? Did Sarah want him in bed with her? Was this something she expected or something unplanned? Do John’s parents know he is out of the house? What time of day or night is this?

A good story asks questions. Sometimes the author won’t know the answers to those questions until later in the book, and as a result, the reader won’t know the answers until the author does. A brilliant story will sometimes create more questions once the reader reaches the end of the story and closes the book.

The fact is, each character has to have a motivation. That includes both the antagonist and the protagonist. If there is no motivation, we don’t have a story. And I might add, each character has to encounter roadblocks to those motivations. Things that get in the way. Things that cause the character (and the reader) frustration. I mean, seriously, if each character gets what he or she wants without any difficulty or struggle, what kind of story do we have? Not a satisfying one. It becomes nothing more than my first example: John climbed into bed. Boring!

For this article, I will deal with the motivations of the antagonist.

In my book, Blaze In, Blaze Out, there is a conversation around a campfire. Two cops and four boys are on a hunting and fishing trip in a Northern Wisconsin woods. One boy, Two, (short for Michael Two Feathers) asks a question: “What makes someone a murderer?”

Graff thought it was an odd question, and random at that. They had been talking NorthStar football and soccer, and the prospects for a decent basketball season . . .

O’Connor eyed Brian, whose expression hadn’t changed. It was unreadable. Who knew what was rattling around inside his head, especially prompted by Two’s question? He knew Brian was as deep a thinker as they come. His thoughts colored his heart and soul.

After a few beers one night at a campfire similar to this one, O’Connor had told the boys and men sitting around discussing this and that, ‘They don’t give classes in human suffering. Nobody gets to happily ever after without a few scars.’ Of course, that last statement could apply to anyone, especially the boys sitting around the fire . . .

It was O’Connor who answered. “Men kill each other for any number of reasons. Money. Power. Kicks. Defense. Revenge.”

On the face of it, the question and the resulting dialogue have a dark tint to it. The reader wonders what prompted the question. The cop answers with the plausible reasons an antagonist, and perhaps a protagonist, has for motivation. Add in sex, and you pretty much have a plot to any book or movie on the market.

But as I said, the question has a dark tint to it. Why is Two asking such a question? What is going on in Two’s mind that would prompt a question like this? What took place in Two’s past and does this have any bearing on the question?

In answer to some of those questions, the passage continues.

Curious, Graff asked, “Why did you ask about murderers?”

Two said, “I’m reading the book, Mindhunter. It’s written by two FBI agents. It’s interesting.”

“I’ve read it,” Graff said, nodding.

“Me, too,” Brett said.

Two asked O’Connor, “Why did you want to be a cop?”

“The women.” He tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t.

“Yeah? And how’s that workin’ for you?” Brett asked with a laugh.

After a bit of give and take, more is revealed about motivation of the cops and Two.

“I don’t know really. About being a cop, that is,” O’Connor said after a long pull from his can of beer. “Sort of fell into it, I guess.”

“What about you?” Two asked Graff.

Jamie shrugged and said, “I went to college and studied sociology. A little psychology. I wanted to understand the why behind the who.” He shrugged and added, “I like the work, especially investigating crime scenes. I see an investigation as a puzzle. Each piece fits just so.”

“That’s what I want to do,” Two said. “Crime scene stuff.”

Now we see the question Two asked wasn’t as dark as it seemed. He’s looking at becoming a cop. We also find out why O’Connor and Graff became cops. We know something about what motivates them, and Two.

By the way, the book Two mentions in the above passage, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, is an actual book written by two retired FBI agents, John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. I highly recommend it if you write or enjoy crime fiction.

But this passage is around page 152 in a book that runs almost 400 pages. The reader suspects, correctly, that I just didn’t throw this in without a reason. It wasn’t on a whim. It was purposeful. And George, one of the boys, isn’t listening to the conversation at all. He is staring off into the woods. Why? If you know my books, you know George isn’t random in anything he does. There is a reason, a motivation.

For the illustration of this article on motivation, O’Connor lays it out for you: Money. Power. Kicks. Defense. Revenge. I add in Sex.

I’m sure you can identify others, but these are the biggies. These are powerful motivators for any antagonist (perhaps a protagonist) in just about any book. You will find them in most crime/thriller/detective novels.

It was power and greed in my book, Betrayed. In my book, Caught in a Web, it was power, greed, and money. In The Lives Trilogy and Prequel, it was sex, greed, power, and money.

However, in my book, Spiral Into Darkness, there was another motivator. It dealt with a serial killer and posed the question: Is a serial killer born or was there a trigger, an event, that caused one to become a serial killer? It’s the question surrounding the debate on Nature vs Nurture.

The antagonist in Spiral Into Darkness operates on an agenda only known to him/her. There is no pattern. The killings seem to be random. (Seem. To. Be.) This book differs from my other books in that the reader will know who the serial killer is around page 200, but won’t find out the why (the motivation) until near the end of the book. A little sneaky on my part, but I wanted to have some fun at the reader’s expense.

It should be noted that a serial killer, though not in his or her right mind, still is motivated. The serial killer still has a goal in mind and the story in Spiral Into Darkness becomes the pursuit of that goal. A goal is synonymous with motivation.

In a future post, I will write about the motivation for the protagonist, which is not nearly as cut and dried as the motivation for the antagonist. For your convenience, I’ve included the links to both Blaze In, Blaze Out and Spiral Into Darkness in case you want to check them out. 😊

Blaze In, Blaze Out https://amzn.to/34lNllP

Spiral Into Darkness https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L15328K

Picture Courtesy of Sammy Williams and Unsplash

Photo Courtesy of Sammy Williams and Unsplash

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