Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I live only an hour from the University of Texas in Austin, so the shooting on Tuesday hit close to home. Police say UT Student Colton Tooley, 19, fired shots on campus with an AK-47 assault rifle, then killed himself inside the library. So far, no one has any idea why Tooley fired those shots. According to the Associated Press in Yahoo! News, those who knew Tooley say he was "intelligent and incapable of hurting anyone." A relative named Marcus described Tooley as "an excellent student who 'wouldn't or couldn't hurt a fly.'" Tooley's high school principal said teachers remembered him as "brilliant, meticulous and respectful." Yesterday, the young student acted completely out of character and no one knows why.
I'm thinking, not many folks have assault rifles stashed under an old army blanket in their closets. At what point did this careful student decide to buy the AK-47? What caused his character to change so drastically? Yet, even as he carried out his plan, even as he fired the weapon, he failed to injure anyone but himself. Even if the campus was still waking up and not many students were around, even if Tooley had lousy aim, he fired an automatic weapon
toward people. Wouldn't he have hit someone if he were trying? In the end, the young man who "couldn't hurt a fly" only hurt himself.
As writers, we always need to know what motivates our characters. Does their motivation make sense? If not, the lack of a proper motive will take the reader completely out of the story faster than almost anything. But with the proper back story, your villain can be believable, your story can be powerful. Your tragic young hero can make serious mistakes, yet your story will resonate with your readers and may change lives.
In the days ahead, I'm sure investigators, psychologists, and profilers will draw a clear picture of what motivated Tooley. Meanwhile, my heart goes out to Tooley's distraught parents on the loss of their son. I'm thankful he didn't take any innocent lives during the shootings and his parents aren't dealing with that additional tragedy as well.
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