Want & Need

Want & Need

Want and Need in a crime story

An investigator may end up getting something different from what he expected or wanted at the beginning. That which someone wants (the character goal) is also called “want” in screenplay theory. At the very end, and this is the completely surprising twist, the character gets something different than what the character expected. This is also called “Need”. It describes what the character requires.

A vindictive character wants revenge. Maybe the character gets his revenge, but the viewer is also looking for a satisfying result, a logical ending. The character can either perish or die through her revenge. Or it can renew itself, for example by discovering love or an important new task.

For example, a disillusioned cop drowns his life in alcohol like in “16 Blocks”. Jack Mosley, the cop of this film, is also humiliated by his colleagues. However, he can deviate from his previous goal (Want) by doing an important task and in the end he gets satisfaction (Need) by helping to get some corrupt cops indicted.  

However, the Want-and-Need model is not a “must” in the field of crime fiction. Many crime stories manage without a “need”. Cop or detective simply continue their work as before – that is the end of many crime stories.    

The mask of the perpetrator

In the case of criminal stories, special attention should be paid to the drawing of the criminal. The investigator (main character or protagonist) is dealing with a cunning opponent (antagonist). The criminal does his job with the same professionalism as the cop. The difference is that both belong to different camps. The criminal finds nothing wrong with doing bad things. Moreover, an opponent should not only be abysmally bad. He should rather possess something that gives him charm and sympathy.

The culprit is an exceptionally good actor compared to the cop and all the other characters. This is the only way he can deceive the cop and the other characters over long distances. Sometimes the cop sees through the perpetrator right from the start. But sometimes he doesn’t and the cop investigates into several wrong directions first.

A brilliant investigator, on the other hand, has the perpetrator in his sights from the very beginning. This is almost always the case with “The Mentalist” or “Columbo”, but also with the ingenious detective Hercule Poirot of Agatha Christie.

At the very end the cop pulls off the mask of the perpetrator and the perpetrator shows his true self. A human and moral abyss opens up, but the case is solved. The scene in which the investigator “tears off the mask” of the perpetrator is also the scene of the conviction and the arrest.

Determination is analysis

Analysis is not only about crime stories, but also about court stories and lawyer stories. Analysis means that you break down a process into its individual components and reconstruct a crime, for example. Crime novels are therefore analytical stories. Any author who develops a crime novel or a court story should know exactly the causality of the events before he or she starts writing.

Many authors use a pinboard with a timeline for this purpose. If the crime story is about a murder (and not about a missing person’s report or kidnapping), then the murder is roughly in the middle of the timeline. From here, the crime novelist has to invent different people involved as possible perpetrators with different motives. Witnesses must also appear as well as details that incriminate the perpetrator or suspects.

The author’s bulletin board gets fuller and fuller until at some point he can start writing down his plot. It is important that at the beginning of the clarification of the case causality is muddled up (partly by false perceptions, assessments, statements and evidence). In the course of the investigation, the investigator succeeds in arranging the most diverse circumstantial evidence and statements and reconstructs causality with great difficulty. 

Crime novels are therefore analytical narratives. Probably the most famous narrative father of all crime stories is the ancient tragedy “King Oedipus”. This narrative by Sophocles (496-405 B.C.) is the structural precursor of all court and crime stories. In this famous theatrical tragedy, King Oedipus successively uncovers who has committed certain serious crimes.

There is also an investigator who searches for various clues to a crime until he has a clear picture of the process and can identify and convict the real culprit. In the case of “King Oedipus” the culprit was the king himself, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.


To continue reading, use the drop-down menu under “Crime Story” or click here .