There’s a cop show on Canadian TV called, “Motive,” and the network’s description reads:
MOTIVE is an unconventional way to watch a crime drama unfold. Each episode of the new CTV Original Drama begins by revealing not only the victim, but the killer as well. It’s not a “whodunit,” it’s a “whydunit,” a question faced by spirited female Vancouver homicide detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) as she begins to piece together the clues from the crime. How are the victim and killer connected? What is the motive? As the mystery unfolds, the audience navigates a complicated maze of clues alongside the detective and her team.
So, do we care that much whydunit?
I sometimes say that my favourite crime fiction song is I Fought the Law because it explains itself so directly wit the lyrics:
“I needed money because I had none.”
That seems like all the motive necessary but maybe we’re past that now. Maybe we’re more interested in the why than we are in the who (or at least equally as interested).
Maybe I’m just afraid of the too cliché motive, the childhood trauma that leads to adult serial killer (maybe I see that as too much of an easy out and a slight to all the people who have overcome childhood trauma or are battling the effects of it without hurting anyone else).
Maybe it’s different depending on the crime. I like a good heist story and usually the motive for the robbery is pretty thin and dealt with quickly so we can move on to the real story.
In my novels there are a lot of criminals who commit crimes because… well, because they’re criminals. I like that approach, the idea that someone has looked at the opportunities available and decided to break the law. One marijuana dealer I spoke to more than ten years ago told me that laws change, someday his business would be legal and he’d be as respected a distiller or a brewer.
So, when it comes to the non-murder crimes, the drug dealing and bank heists and art thefts, how important is the character’s motive?