Motives Operandi

Even when they’re of the same type, not all crimes are alike. Some thefts are well-planned and for a purpose, while others are last-minute; some murders meant to shock, some to silence, some to not have happened in the first place; some kidnappings are for ransom, some to protect the victim from someone else, some for worse. Crimes vary—and most often, they vary by what the perpetrator was intending to do. And as the crimes vary, so too do the clues.

What that means is that whether we expect our audience to figure out the perpetrator’s motive or not, if we know who the perpetrator in a mystery we’re creating is, we need to know what the motive is. The why, after all, is going to affect the how, and in turn likely affect the kinds of clues available to us. How?

Sometimes, the crime is unplanned, unexpected even by the perpetrator herself. Sure, she might have been planning to do something else, but she wasn’t planning to do that. These, in general, are going to have a rather slapped-together feel about them; certainly, there aren’t likely to be any preplanned contingencies to keep it untraceable, and the coverup is going to be hasty, probably improvised.

In some cases, the perpetrator has a definite goal and is trying desperately to avoid collateral damage. These sorts of people are, in a sense, some of the easiest to catch; they don’t tend to silence witnesses, they’ll often change their plans if it looks like an innocent is in the way, and so on—but at the same time, people who have figured out that they did it might end up trying to cover for them.

How much does the perpetrator want to be noticed? Particularly among thieves and murderers, sometimes the perpetrator is in it as much for the adrenaline rush from the games of cat and mouse and for the fame that comes from scaring the populace and/or tweaking the nose of authority as actually wanting the crime’s specific result. People like that are going to be rather selective about what clues they hide and which ones they let stay or even deliberately leave; they might leave a calling card, add distinctive aspects to their modus operandi, send out notes taunting the authorities, or otherwise make it clear that it was that person who did it, even if it’s not clear who that person actually is.

On the other hand, for some people, it’s the direct result of the action that’s important, but even more important is don’t get caught. They’re really good planners, but if something happens that they didn’t have a contingency for, they’re as likely to throw the whole thing out as to work around it. Odds are that any clues they leave behind are going to be a result of something unexpected happening or people being where they weren’t supposed to be.

So think about what the perpetrator was trying to accomplish, and what she was trying to avoid, and plan your clues around that.

Leave a Reply