Character Motivation


What makes you do the things that you do? What makes you reach for that cookie when you are on a diet? Or play that game when you should be sleeping? What really motivates us to act?

What motivates someone to murder?

Recently, I finished watching the Netflix docuseries “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” which doesn’t come to a definite conclusion as to the motivation for committing the crimes of which Hernandez is accused or as to the reason behind his suicide. It begs the question of what does motivate someone to commit the heinous act of murder.

FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 10: Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots smiles from the sidelines in the fourth quarter during a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on December 10, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Acts of passion are some how understandable if murder can ever understood. The idea of loosing control and taking a life has been used a character’s motivation over and over again. A typically upright and thereby good being is over taken by passion or it’s darker sister rage. When they come back to their senses with blood on their hands, what do they do? If we are dealing with fiction, the story doesn’t go forward unless they try and hide their crime. In real life, do they call the police or hide the crime? All of which circles back to fictional scenario?

Revenge is another popular motive. Along with greed. These are text book motivations. Understandable to the point that the reader doesn’t give them a second thought.

In watching the docuseries about Aaron Hernández, we see the life of an American athlete on the cusp of greatness fall apart. First with his arrest for the murder of a friend and then more cracks in the foundation of this perfect life appeared. It turned out that there more cracks than anything else in the life of Aaron Hernandez.

He was a young man with a good heart and a bad brain. After his death in 2017, he was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopath, which may have effected his behavior in life. If you haven’t hear of the condition commonly referred to as CTE, it is sometimes called fistfighter’s dementia. A number of former football players have been diagnosed with it following their early deaths.

Watching the life of Aaron Hernandez unfold in three episodes. I see how the series unfolds his character artfully, sympathetically. You feel him and yet you never forget what he is accused of doing. You see how in attempting to avoid the consequence of one crime, he provide the police with all the evidence they would need to convict him of the another crime. It is somewhat like what happens in mythology when the hero tries to avoid his fate and only ends up running directly towards it.

Real life is often stranger than fiction. It is always more complex. When authors water down motivation they water down their plots. I think about this as I write. Am I dumbing down my own plots by not considering the bad guy’s motivation? My current bad guy or gal has killed at least two people and as I work on rewriting the current draft, I wonder about their motivation.

I wonder about the complexities of my villain’s life. What has led them to this point where the death of another is the preferred option? Maybe it is just the easier option?

Death as the easier option is somehow more unsettling? Yet if we look around us there are tons of examples of people choosing that option.

These are the thoughts rattling round my brain.

What’s bouncing round your head?

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