A novel offers two significant ways to provide information different from a movie or TV.
• Time - The character has the advantage of multiple scenes to show motivation.
• Introspection - The character can reveal motivation, goal and attitudes in his thoughts.
Goals are best understood when the reader understands the motivation. Why does he kill children? Why is he stalking the woman? Why does she marry and then kill her spouse? Why does he steal?
Goals and motivation are important for all main characters in the novel, especially the antagonist and protagonist. The victim may also have significant backstory to help explain the crime.
While the protagonist’s goal in suspense is usually to punish the criminal, stop the villain from following through on dire threats, or squelch a dangerous situation. His backstory will reveal if he is only doing his job or if he has a greater motivation that causes him to strive for success. Has the incident affect his life or a loved ones? Does he feel threatened? Is it a moral or spiritual issue? Does the crime go against a deep value? The motivation of the goal can be a complex blend of reasons.
A villain needs to be believable, and the author does that by providing him with at least one redeeming quality and reasonable motivation, even if it is skewed or wrong. The most despicable person may love his dog or is kind to his parents, but he will strive to harm someone who has disgraced his family’s name.
Suspense has many sub-genres that affects the types of goals and motivations of he characters. Use a search engine to review the specifics for each genre. As an example of differences, I will review psychological suspense and romantic suspense.
Psychological suspense involves moral danger, and usually two plots run through the story for the protagonist. The first plot is stopping the crime or catching the criminal. The second plot line is a personal weakness, dilemma or conflict in the life of the protagonist—sick child, failing marriage, money problems, or an variety of issues.
The villain also needs motivation that makes sense. Often it is revenge or power, and usually a goal or motivation warped by a twisted worldview.
A popular form of suspense involves romance. The focus is on both the hero and heroine, usually one is in trouble and the other is trying to solve the problem. The story often leads to suspicion placed on one or the other and the character begins to view the person as a threat.
In romantic suspense, the antagonist can be a sexual predator, a character with an obsession or a person out for revenge against the individual or her family.
When dealing with goals and motivation, remember:
• Goals are unique for each character.
• Motivation comes from backstory and/or the result of a recent action.
• Both protagonist and antagonist have strengths and weaknesses that affect goals & motivation.
• Ask yourself I the action is realistic. Would you react this way under the same circumstances?
• Readers want excitement and reality.