The Superbowl is today, and the country has been talking about DeflateGate. Oh, the scandal! There’s something about scandal that generates buzz – we seem to like tearing people down, and take delight when we learn that someone who is up can be torn down. Most of my stories include some sort of scandal – something that causes outrage, the topic of gossip. Some big, some small. Why do I include them? Because scandals are a great motivator. Part of writing a layered character involves making them realistic. They need to have motivation for what they do. For instance, if one character kills another, there needs to be a reason for that death to happen. It could be out and out murder, or it could be a justifiable homicide. Regardless of which it is, there has to be a believable reason for it. That reason could vary greatly, depending on the character. Your characters become living, breathing individuals, and their actions have to match their personalities.
Let’s play with a character and see this in action.
- Helen is the president of her garden club. Her husband is the CEO of the biggest company in town. She is the queen of the local society types, and takes great pride in her status.
- Tamara is a paralegal, active with her kids’ school activities. Her husband works construction. Her life is work, then kids, then sleep. It may not be a glamorous life, but she has no complaints.
What happens when we add scandal? Imagine Helen and Tamara. How will each react when her husband announces that he’s having an affair? Tamara will likely take it in stride. They may get divorced, but life will go on. Helen, on the other hand, will be more desperate. It will be more embarrassing for her. In fact, she might even go so far as to let that desperation drive her to do something horrible . . . like murder. Her victim could be her husband or his mistress.
Let’s take another example:
- Dr. James Whittenhaus is a well-known researcher, credited with discovering the cure for cancer.
- Dr. Grant Gibbons just graduated with his doctorate, excited that his article was selected to be published in a trade journal.
What happens when we add scandal? Imagine James and Grant. How will each react when a national news reporter exposes the fact that the research was not original? Who will be more desperate? What lengths will each go to in order to keep this story from going public?
Another thing to consider is the environment. In a small town, scandal can rip someone to pieces and destroy an individual’s life. In a large city, scandal may be easier to escape. What motivates the person behind the scandal? Every time a story breaks loose and goes viral, someone is driving it. A story doesn’t have legs all on its own. Someone has to expose the wrongdoing, and publicize it. With social media, that doesn’t take much. A simple mistake can grow and morph into something barely recognizable, and the truth can be lost along the way.
Pay attention to the stories you hear this week, both by major news organizations and by regular people on social media. Think about the scandals and how those involved might react, based on their backgrounds.