Personal or professional motivation for a character?

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ironpony
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20 May 2020, 11:44 pm

I wrote a crime thriller screenplay, and some readers don't believe that a main character, a cop, would go above and beyond his duty and the law to achieve his goals. They say cops don't do that because they would be fired and have to deal with the consequences. So they said that I should not have him step beyond his duty and at all, and totally remain within the law.

But then he is just following his superiors orders, and has much more limited personal motivations of his own. Unless that's good, because it makes him as a character more plausible, since realistically, police follow orders, and do not want to anything stupid to jeopardize their careers?



redrobin62
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21 May 2020, 12:45 pm

In modern times, cops are extremely limited in their professional behaviour because of government and judicial oversight. They need just cause to search cars they've pulled over, warrants to enter homes, and they sometimes have to report back to their sergeant right there in the field, depending on the jurisdiction they're in. Just a cursory glance at reality shows like "Under Arrest" or "COPS" illustrates this.

Of course, if you're writing about a third world, severely under-developed country, then yes, cops can pretty much do what they want. To wit: In the Philippines, the cops practice extrajudicial killings which is actually sanctioned by their president.



ironpony
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21 May 2020, 12:56 pm

Oh okay thanks. Well I wrote a screenplay, in a modern American setting. In the story, the main character a cop, is working a case, where a witness placed in a hotel, cause she knows too much, and people are after her, but the hotel is attacked and compromised, and she escapes, or something along those lines, can happen.

This motivates the main character to keep the witness hidden at his house, overnight, until the next day, and he can figure out what to do, but I was told this idea is not plausible, as no cop is going to keep the witness at his place, overnight, or he would be fired. No audience will buy this, and think of him as a moron for doing that I was told by a couple of readers.

The reason why I wanted it to be his house, is because I wanted the main character's fiancee to come over at the wrong time, and become involved in the plot, since his love interest plays a key role in the pay off I want. But is this idea just not plausible though, like the readers said, since the cop would be fired?



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21 May 2020, 1:51 pm

Should the motivation for a character be personal or professional?

Yes, definitely!


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redrobin62
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21 May 2020, 8:19 pm

You're better off having the main character be a detective assigned to an SVU (Special Victims Unit), or something similar, as opposed to just a cop. Cops have severe restrictions and what they can and can't do, and what you're proposing is way beyond the purview of a cop. If you were to watch a lot of, say, Nordic noir films, you'd notice the similarity between their stories and your own, but your "cop" has to be a detective, criminal investigator, or something along those lines.



ironpony
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22 May 2020, 1:42 am

Oh yes, he is one of the detectives on the case, I just used the term cop in a more general generic way. But still having trouble getting the main character to have motivations to go above and beyond...



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22 May 2020, 3:18 pm

It's a well-known and common trope in Hollywood that detectives often go beyond the scope of their profession, get fired for it, but still work on the case behind their superiors' backs. The last movie I saw this device used in Birds Of Prey. The detective, Rosie Perez, was motivated to solve the case because, as a woman, she was tired of seeing the injustices inflicted on women which required her to go rogue. In Conviction, Hilary Swank, a working mother, puts herself through law school, motivated by her love for her brother to free him from prison because she thought he was wrongfully convicted.

Anything can motivate anybody. For instance, you'll often hear about minorities who become cops, detectives, lawyers, judges, etc so they can help and address the perceived injustices on their own people. Or someone could be motivated to be a crime fighter because they're tired of all the graft, crime, and corruption that be, and they feel so strongly about it that they'll attempt bring down a criminal in their own personal way. What drives someone is what they'll achieve - personal satisfaction that they righted a wrong, arrested a criminal, put a ne'er-do-well behind bars where they belong, etc.



ironpony
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22 May 2020, 4:08 pm

Oh okay. Perhaps maybe the readers thought that a rogue cop keeping a witness hidden at his place is a dumb rogue cop move, as opposed to a smart rogue cop move?



redrobin62
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22 May 2020, 8:19 pm

No, it's actually a good idea. Several movies have been made where a detective is assigned to protect a witness in different places. To wit:

1. Someone To Watch Over Me - A married NY detective falls for the witness he'd been assigned to protect. This was done in her fancy apartment.

2. Witness - When a young Amish boy witnesses a murder, Det. John Bock goes hiding in Amish country to protect him.

3. Bullitt - Det. Frank Bullitt watches over a witness in a cheap motel in San Francisco.

4. Bad Boys - In order to protect witness Julie (Tea Leoni), Det. Marcus (Martin Lawrence) lives with her at Det. Mike's (Will Smith's) apt.



ironpony
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22 May 2020, 10:18 pm

Oh okay. Well I was told for my story, it makes more sense for the cop to watch the witness at a hotel, instead of his own home. However, I want the detectives wife to be there and get involved in the plot. Is there a way to get the wife involved, if he is a hotel with the witness compared to his place?

I tried rewriting it several different ways, but the wife having to come out to find where he is hiding the witness, just seems forced in every way. Is it possible to get the wife in the same place and time as them for the rest of the plot to go the way I want to go?



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22 May 2020, 11:01 pm

Did you tell these critics that your character is actually a detective and not a regular police officer? That might be a misunderstanding that explains why they think this is unrealistic.

Even a cop could do something crazy and unusual with the right motivation. For example, the officer recently lost a child to the same type of organized crime that the witness is hiding from, so the cop is overly emotionally involved and not thinking straight, or the cop has inside knowledge that the chief of police doesn't know about and therefore decides to disobey orders.

You could also come up with a reason for the detective's wife to come to the hotel instead.



ironpony
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22 May 2020, 11:03 pm

Oh okay, I think the readers knew he was a detective, but what does being a detective but what difference does that make when it comes to deciding where to hide a witness?

Also, I don't really want to do the whole tragic past thing. It's the type of story about an average joe everyone, thrust into an extraordinary situation. It's not really the tragic past type of story though, but do I need that just to give a character desperate motivation?

I haven't been able to think of a reason as to why the detective's wife would follow him to the hotel though, that feels natural.



redrobin62
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23 May 2020, 2:05 pm

When you say "follow", do you mean the wife secretly follows her detective husband to a hotel or he asks her to be there for whatever reason?



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26 May 2020, 2:48 pm

Maybe your cop character gets fired for going beyond regulations. Maybe he/she has personal demons driving a fanatical need to solve the case, such as having had a loved one hurt by a suspect involved in said case.


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ironpony
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26 May 2020, 7:09 pm

redrobin62 wrote:
When you say "follow", do you mean the wife secretly follows her detective husband to a hotel or he asks her to be there for whatever reason?


Well he wouldn't want the wife to be there logically, because it goes against protocol, and it's unsafe for her, so she would have to secretly follow him there, without him knowing then.



ironpony
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26 May 2020, 7:10 pm

Kraichgauer wrote:
Maybe your cop character gets fired for going beyond regulations. Maybe he/she has personal demons driving a fanatical need to solve the case, such as having had a loved one hurt by a suspect involved in said case.


Oh well I didn't want to make the character have a tragic backstory to motivate him, because that doesn't seem right for this kind of story. It's more like a story like say, Die Hard, where you have an ordinary average joe cop, thrust into an extraordinary situation, but with no tragic backstory.