Monday, April 25, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Ulterior Motives

Hi all! Welcome to the final week of the A to Z challenge! Just a quick shout to all my new bloggy friends. In particular, hi and thanks to Catherine Denton, the 500th person to click follow. ^_^

So today, I want to do a quick post about motives, ulterior and otherwise. Yes, technically this is cheating, but I had to do the map on M-day.

Motives can actually be a tricky thing to deal with, even if we're not dealing with mysteries. After all, I've met/read about very few people who do things for absolutely no reason. There is ALWAYS a reason for doing something. Even when it comes to serial killers. Someone might decide to kill women wearing polka dots because he hates women wearing polka dots.

Because his polka-dot-adoring mother abused him as a child.

Or... because his pet tapeworm told him to do it. (True story, incidentally. HF Verwoerd's assassin said that his tapeworm told him to kill the politician. He proceeded to follow the worm's edict with some ingenious planning...)

The motive might not make much sense to us, because the character is so foreign to us and our way of thinking. But it's there must be a reason.

That reason must make sense to the character, were he to consider why he does things.

Now, ulterior motives add another dimension to the mix. Now we have to deal with at least two motives: The real motive (known mainly by the character taking the action) and the motive(s) everyone else attributes to the character. Sometimes, the reader knows the real motive because it comes through in the characters thoughts. Other times (and I like this one) it sort of phases into the reader's mind as the story progresses that the motive everyone assumed to be valid is, in fact (and often-times catastrophically), not.

Do you have a character who harbors ulterior motives? How do you deal with the motives? Do the other characters accept him/her on good faith, or does someone not trust him/her?


  1. I like it when the motives are not clear at first, but gradually become apparent - kind of like watching CSI!

    Duncan In Kuantan

  2. And what if a character doesn't even recognise their own ulterior motives? :D

  3. Love that phrase ulterior motives. There is so much you can do with that to weave into the story. Who is aware of the ulterior motives? The mc? Just the reader? Minor characters? I love this whole convoluted web of deception.. Cool post.

  4. You're last paragraph is making me think. I'm currently in a total rewrite of my YA novel, and I'm at a pivotal point. I've added another plot twist--that's what I'm weaving through the manuscript, results included as well as motivations. I'm finding a mixture of plausible motives and a few secret ulterior motives that even the character was unaware he/she had. It's interesting to thread this into the story.

  5. I'm with Trisha, I love when a character doesn't recognise their own motives. It makes for a lot of good character growth :)

  6. Yes, in one of my books, one of the main characters does have some serious ulterior motives, and they trump all his other feelings, including his love for his family. Mayhem ensues. Great post!

  7. I like my characters to bate the reader in with their motives. Salt and peeper them through what I write. Build the big to speak.

  8. In the book I'm working on right now I actually have a character that has ulterior motives. Except it isn't known only hinted at through the eyes of my narrator. It's difficult at times to only hint, but it definitly gets known later on. I love characters that you think are one thing and switch to another, and throws you for a loop. Motives are key to a good plot and keep readers hooked.

  9. Yes, my protagonist on my current WIP doesn't see their own ulterior motives...yet...

    Great to find your blog through the A-Z and look forward to following your posts and writing.

    warm wishes

  10. I love it when I'm reading and I've made assumptions and then start getting hints toward ulterior motive. Peeling back the layers is intriguing.

  11. Hi Misha ~
    I finally made it over. How's your re-write goal for the 30th coming along? That can be tough along with all the daily blogs.

    When it comes to motives, it's good both ways, depending on how it's handled. I like it when all the clues point to someone, but the lack of a known motive stops it all dead in its tracks. This unsurety will cause anxiety, tension, anger and hopefully...relief.

    I also love it when all the details are revealed up front, but you're totally perplexed how anyone will be able to tie it all together to prove anything. Actually, this one seems to build the most suspense, because the reader knows more than the main characters.

  12. Duncan, I like that too.

    Hahaha Trisha, that's a good question. I have a character that might have his motives a little crossed. It's going to be interesting to watch him straightening it all out. :-)

    Jeanne, that's one of the things I enjoyed playing around with in my story. The sequels are going to have a much more convoluted web of deceit. ^_^

    Sheri, it definitely is an interesting aspect to add to the story. I'm considering it to put more emphasis on this when I'm editing as it adds many more layers of conflict to the story.

    Christine, that is so true. A character who discovers something about himself gets a chance to change or accept what he discovered. That leads to growth. ^_^

    Sarah, I have a character like that too. Although I didn't put a lot of emphasis on that just yet. That's for the sequels.

    And how big that bang can become, if you do it right, Shelly. ;-)

    Amy that's another reason why I skipped on the narrator. He/she'll understand my characters too well...

    Thanks for stopping by, Debbie! I also have a character like that. Something bad might happen because of the fact that he doesn't acknowledge his motives.

    Lisa I love that too. But not as much as writing a character that I hate and getting the surprise of my life at his core.

    Hi Kathy! I finished the rewrite yesterday! *dances happily* I like the way you think about the motives. One of the things I try to do when I write is to make the reader want to scream the answer at the character because of something they can see, but the character has no human way of knowing. If the character should have seen it too, the result is a reader who puts down the book. Thanks for stopping by!


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