Thursday, May 9, 2013

Secrets and lies--writing tip

by Anne and Ivan Kronenfeld

In 1814, a woman of unknown origins graduated from Edinburgh Medical School 
disguised as a man. Dr. James Miranda Barry has the distinction 
of being the first woman doctor in the Western world.

Question from the e-mail:  Recently people at my writers' group complain that my characters "take too many stupid chances." Okay, I write thrillers. Don't they HAVE to?

Answer: Yes, but motivation is the key, there.

You can let a character make any kind of foolish decision or take any kind of dangerous action if you give them a good enough reason for the reader to feel as if they might have done the same thing in the given circumstances. 

In a nutshell, to coin a cliche, that is motivation.  According to my good friend, Alice Orr, Good characters keep secrets, tell lies, and take risks for good reasons. Bad characters keep secrets, tell lies, and take risks, for bad reasons. But they all have a reason to keep secrets, take risks, and tell lies .

That reason is the character’s motivation. One reason writers of romantic suspense get criticized is because the dimwit heroine always goes blindly into the House of Hell that is obviously filled with weird characters and murderers, just because she is determined to solve the mystery herself, when any sane person would go away and call the police.  If she does that, she’s an Idiot!! 

Now suppose her baby sister is inside and the nitwit heroine knows her sister will die if she calls the police, then she has a Good Reason to go sneaking around Hell House trying to find out stuff.


  1. One of my major ocmplaints with movie cops and/or someone taking their place, is that they consistantly go into the dangerous building all alone when any real cop or sensible person would call for backup or some sort of help.
    Fortunately, books don't usually pull that sort of comic episode because their wise editors won't let them.

    1. Oh so true, CM. But that doesn't mean characters can't do stupid things. If the reason is good enough...