by Gillian Hamer
I’ve recently spent time plotting my latest crime fiction novel, and there was a throwaway line made by one of my detective characters that actually made me stop and think.
‘Sex, money, secrets. Take your pick.’ – was his response to the age old ‘what are we looking for in terms of motive?’ question. Could it really be that simple?
It made me analyse fictional murder motives in depth. I actually went back through my previous novels and listed motives in each, and the biggest single reason so far in my books is revenge.
In crime fiction, we writers walk a virtual tightrope. We need the tension, pace and excitement – but we also need any resolution to be believable, creative and satisfying for the reader.
There has to be more layers to the question of motive, and while many may over-lap – greed and money or sex and jealousy – for instance, I decided I wanted to categorise some of the reasons people use to justify or explain their decision to kill another human being.
So, let’s make a list of what comes after ‘Who done it?’ -- ‘Why done it?’ -- and look at examples of each.
Example: Burglar murders house-holder when attacked in the middle of a robbery.
2. Secrets & Lies
Example: Man murders his business partner to cover up long-running fraud racket when his crime is discovered.
Example: Wife murders her husband for insurance payout before he reaches his sixty-fifth birthday and the payment is halved.
Example: Woman kills uncle who abused her and her sister as children, sister later committed suicide as unable to live with the secret.
5. Hate & Obsession
Example: Religious extremist murders CEO of publishing empire whose company release blasphemous books.
6. Sex & Jealousy
Example: Student murders wife of her college professor, who refuses to end his marriage despite having an affair with her.
7. Crime of Passion
Example: Husband snaps when his wife announces she is leaving him for his own brother, and shoots them both.
8. Mental Illness
Example: A woman with schizophrenia kills her family after listening to voices in her head telling her they are planning to section her.
9. Protecting a Loved One
Example: Father stabs the babysitter after arriving home to find him molesting his child.
10. Empathy & Sympathy
Example: A nurse administers a lethal overdose to end the suffering of a terminally ill patient.
11. Covering Up Another Crime
Example: A politician kills his personal assistant who discovers the drug-dealing past of his boss.
12. Mistaken Identity
Example: Man kills a drug dealer in revenge for his brother’s death by overdose, but kills the dealer’s brother by mistake
I think this exercise has helped me a great deal, and clearly proved there are many more than the three basic motive for murders. If you're thinking of writing crime, work hard to make your motives creative and original, perhaps a combination of two or more of the ideas I've listed.
And don't forget to layer them in lots more secrets and lies to cover your tracks. Good luck!