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Characters’ Motivations – Warning vs. Revenge

The 4th SDF is all about a ghostly curse killing men on Halloween.

I can’t get into too much since that’d be spoilers, but, since it’s a curse, you know somebody started it. It also ties into Ariana’s issues so she has to deal with those while she’s trying to solve the case.

Writing this brought up an interesting thought for me.

When someone wrongs you and you tell others, why do you do it?

Part of that is you tying to deal with it because talking it out helps, that we all know, but after that, or on top of it, are you telling them as a warning about that person so they don’t get burned too, or to try to sow discord so you can punish the wrongdoer by hurting their relationships with other people?

Most obvious example in real life when it’s removed from personal entanglements – leaving a bad review/telling others what Company C did.

The service was bad at a restaurant, the business cards didn’t come out right and they wouldn’t fix them for free, the expensive bottle of bourbon that was supposed to be for your mom’s bday disappeared from your suitcase when you flew Southwest (grrrrrrr).

Most of these are little things that didn’t really do much except cost you a little money (or more than a little) but there’s no real sense of betrayal.

You leave a review saying what they did, complain to management to try to get something to make up for it, state on your blog about the theft, and the world goes on.

So you’re probably warning people and letting the company know they need to fix things in the future so they don’t lose customers, so a bad review acts as a warning to them too.

Now, let’s go to a personal example – partner cheats on you.

Uh huh.

There was probably some emotional reaction when you read that, huh?

So now when you tell people, why?

Lets leave out the you need to talk to process it part. Say you’ve done that with family and friends.

Now you’re at the place of, you know people they know and you want to tell those people.

That’s probably coming from a place of revenge.

Make it more complicated, what if the guy starts dating a girl you know, are not friends with (cuz that’s a whole other layer), but you know and like her fine.

Then which would it be?

It comes down to motivation. Is it to protect the girl or to get back at the guy? And it can be both.

This murky moral area is where writers play because moral quandaries are fun.

Same action of telling what they did is either protecting or revenge, one is good and one is bad, and the only difference is motivation.

And the beautiful potential for conflict is in that murk, because your character can honestly be trying to warn but be interpreted as the bad guy because others can’t see her motivations, or they can just think she’s lying.

You can also have a character who thinks they’re doing it to warn others, and as they develop, they figure out they were lying to themselves about why they were doing it.

Yes, have your character lie to themselves. Have them do things that don’t make logical sense on the surface because of that lie.

Why? Because that’s what people in real life do. And if you can do this with your character, you’re making a more complex, real one that we can all relate to.

But you can’t just drop the lie out of the sky. No, you have to leave hints, just like in a mystery.

Readers have to know something’s off. Maybe the story changes slightly between tellings, maybe the character is wondering why they’re telling and are trying to justify it to themselves, maybe the words they use in the telling are more emotionally charged than if they were merely warning someone.

Have the other characters react too. Maybe they don’t believe her on the facts, maybe they start rationalizing away why that happened, or maybe they point out she might not be the most objective. Or maybe they believe her and say they’ll cut off contact with that person and she’s happy about it.

And, don’t tell your readers until your character figures it out.

Have them wonder too.

I use the example of warning vs. revenge because it’s one that I’m using, for one, but also because it’s an illustration of this type of complexity you can give to your characters. You can have them in other moral dark waters and have the same struggles, or have them lying to themselves about orher things.

Not only can, but you should. Your characters should be put in moral grey areas, your characters should struggle to figure out what’s right, and there should be situations where there is no answer. Where the character is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. And the characters should do things that seem illogical up top or react emotionally because they are running themselves on a lie or something else they aren’t acknowledging.

What are other situations where the character has these dilemmas? Where can you build in that personal growth?

What will the character have to go through to achieve that growth? And what bridges will they have burned in the process?

Now, go torture your characters. 😉

Happy writing!

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