Positive and negative goals in a crime story

A crime story does not always have to be about policemen who solve crimes. There are also other people who have the “license to investigate”. These are detectives, reporters, bounty hunters, lawyers, judges, but also hobby detectives. Apart from their investigative activities, many of these people have one thing in common: a strong sense of justice and the will to solve a case. This is a positive goal.

But not all investigators are good people. There are also police officers with negative targets. For example, some policemen are corrupt and secretly want to enrich themselves. Many movies play with this trait. Almost all of the police station in the feature film “21 Bridges” (USA 2019) is corrupt.

Another negative trait in an investigator is the desire for revenge. Some cops are peaceful on the outside, but on the inside they are bubbling over with the desire to avenge a past injustice. We can follow this in the crime series “Life” (USA 2007-2009) or in “The Mentalist” (USA 2008-2015).

There are a number of other negative targets among many investigators. Some investigators are disillusioned and question the world they find themselves in. He drowns his worries in alcohol, for example. The character of the disillusioned investigator is closely linked to detective figures. The novels and novel adaptations by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett illustrate this.

We have now met with corrupt, vindictive and disillusioned investigators, people with various negative agendas. But there are also normal, inconspicuous or average investigators. Clarice Starling in the film “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) does sports in her spare time to keep fit. Inspector Maigret of the writer Georges Simenon likes to sit in bistros, smoke a pipe and drink a glass of white wine. The consultant Patrick Jane from the series “The Mentalist” likes to lie around on a couch to think or rest. These behaviors embody perfectly normal, human goals and of course there are many more of them than I mentioned here.

One of the objectives of action that is mainly seen in a positive light is that of the ambitious investigator. The cop Andre Davis in the movie “21 Bridges” is such an ambitious cop. He wants to punish as many villains in the city as possible. At least as many as he can. Even Clarice Starling from “Silence of the Lambs” is not only top of her year at the training unit, but extremely ambitious in her job.

There are dozens of other positive action goals. Some investigators are about to get married when the plot thickens. Other investigators are about to have children or they already have several children and want to take care of them. “Wanting to surprise someone” or “taking care of the parents” are just a few more of an almost endless number of action goals.

 Why do we look so closely at these action goals? Because an investigator, like any normal person, is supposed to appear, and it’s part of the game that a character should have a variety of objectives. These goals can appear small or large – depending on the viewpoint of the observer.

In order to make an investigator appear human, he should at least have a negative and a positive, perhaps even an average looking target.

Police officer Andre Davis from the movie 21 Bridges has …

1. …the normal, average goal for a cop to be incorruptible and relentless in his pursuit of criminals.

2. …the negative target, that he probably shoots too fast and has already killed several suspects. His conduct will be investigated by a commission.

3. …the positive goal of caring for his dementia-stricken mother.

You can see: When a character does not have only one goal, it begins to behave in many different ways and thus appears more multidimensional.

Open and hidden goals in a crime story

A character becomes really exciting when other people do not know everything about him. For example, do you want others to know everything about you? I certainly don’t. And that’s the way it happens with fictional characters. They hide longings, goals or desires. But not from all the people around them. To some people a character reveals itself, to others not. Still others find out a secret goal about a character by chance and become confidants.

I would like to show you a few examples from films:

In “21 Bridges”, cop Andre Davis hides the goal of caring for his dementia-stricken mother. None of his colleagues seem to know this. Other cops know, however, that his father was killed by a criminal many years ago and maybe that is why Davis is so ambitious to hunt down criminals.

In “16 Blocks” (2006), police officer Jack Mosley secretly drinks alcohol while on duty. But presumably all cops at the station know that he does so and behave disparagingly towards him. But we don’t know for sure. He is definitely an outsider. As an author, try to hide certain goals of a character, while others reveal them openly. Characters who hide certain goals from others arouse curiosity and interest in the viewer and reader and appear lifelike.

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