In Japan, confession is king, claims the book People who Eat Darkness. It’s the fascinating and traumatic story of Lucie Blackman’s murder in Tokyo about fifteen years ago. The book is also about lots of other things: hostessing, sadomasochistic hobby clubs, the Japanese penal system. Unfortunately (for you), I’m planning to write about the Japanese penal system, and not the S&M hobby clubs or the hostessing. You’ll have to read the book for that, or look at this link about ‘exotic’ nightspots in Tokyo.
Supposedly, physical evidence is secondary to motive or confession in Japan. Richard Lloyd Parry, the author of this true crime book, says: “The who, what, where, and when are not enough: a Japanese judge demands to know why. A detective, then, is obliged to get inside his suspect’s skull. If he fails to do that, he is not considered to have done his job.” (Interestingly, most suspects in Japan, whether guilty or innocent, eventually confess.)
The emphasis on confession intrigued me because there’s a lesson there for writers. One can spend so much time mulling over the nuts and bolts of the plot, moving a character from point A to point B, deciding what happens in a scene, that one sometimes forgets about the overriding motives of the characters.
Motives are more difficult than one thinks, because most of the time people do things that make little sense either to themselves or to others. One thing I found useful about psychology (beyond the parties, alcohol and drugs: yeah, yeah, I wish) was how to write a psychodyanmic formulation: why a person has a particular problem at a particular time. You would try and link the current behaviour to the person’s history (defences, traumas, early attachments). It was like doing a massive person puzzle.
The bottom line is that we need to get more confessions from our characters before we write about them. Full confessions. Or we’ll lock them in a dungeon until they talk.