For Why's Sake!
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Why changes everything! It is the most crucial step to make your story real for your reader.
This Blog post is on a particular aspect of story development, (a word I am infamous for) and that word is… “WHY?"
As child I was a never ending “Why” machine. It was my favorite question. Beyond just general curiosity, I had a burning need to understand what motivated and drove people to do, say and think the things they did.
My most probing inquiries usually came while watching movies. “Why did he look at her like that?”, “Why did she say that?”, “Why was he so angry?”, “Why was she crying because of that?”. The list and inquiries were endless.
One day in pure exasperation my mom said,
“Emily, YOU figure out why.”
That began a deep and personal quest to understand and work out for myself, the why in the world around me.
When I was in college I was cast in the premier production of a play. In the opening scene a fairy came and delivered a vague, yet ominous message. This message was THE catalyst event of the entire play. But the play never explains what the true meaning of the message was.
During the months of rehearsals, I speculated what this message really meant, and came up with all these deep and complex possibilities.
The week before opening night, the play writer opened up a Q&A with the cast, to answer questions about the play.
Finally I got to ask him my question, “What was the real meaning of the fairy’s message?”
His answer, “I don’t know.”
My jaw hit the floor and I said, “What do you mean you don’t know?”
He shrugged and casually repeated the statement, adding,
“ It could have been delivered to the wrong person or maybe she wrote it down wrong to begin with, I don’t know.”
I was completely disillusioned and it tainted the rest of the play for me. I'd invested hours and hours of time in making his play believable for the audience, putting my heart into his creation, but he hadn’t bothered to take the time to figure out how the CRUX of his play even came to be!
Why The “Why”?
· Why gives motive to movement. —It creates legitimate reasons for characters to do what they do and when they do it. Or what they don’t do.
· Why creates history and depth. And also adds to the mysterious factor, because the reader can tell there is more to the story than is being told. —It makes the story feel rich and intriguing. If you know why, it shows!
· Asking yourself why helps with story building, character development, and even in non-fictional writing, it ensures you adequately convey the story you're trying to tell.
· Why creates consistency. —For example if you have a villain in your story, knowing why he/she is bad, (even if it’s never stated) helps you to be consistent with their triggers, the object of their hate, their ultimate goals exedra. It will affect the finite movements of your characters and make your characters dynamic beings.
· Why ensures you have covered all your basis.
Why can change everything! It can lead your story in directions you hadn’t considered or even imagined before.
The Why Is In The Details
Many times when a reader asks a WHAT question, it’s because they are wondering the WHY of something. I.E.
“What is their super power? OK, then why don’t they just _____?”
Understand and develop your story to the same depth you hope your readers will invest in it!
An example of good WHY development:
TWILIGHT and MIDNIGHT SUN -My why-meter was going crazy! Since it’s only ever Bella’s perspective, Edward is a very mysterious character.
Stephenie Meyer could have left the story development at that; Edward was just a mysterious vampire dude that liked to smirk and give vague answers, end of story.
But if you read MIDNIGHT SUN, it explains every look, smirk, and action of Edward. Even The SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER shows how far she developed the why's of even side note characters.
To me, her fan base following is a testament not only to a great story, but to her thorough development of her world - all of the why’s.
Questions To Ask To Ensure Your Why Is Covered:
1. What is their goal (or motivation)? Including: Ultimately, immediately, secretly, subconsciously.
The why questions here are:
“Why would they do/say ______?”
“Why would they care about ______?”
2. What limitations are there? Including: physical, magical, emotional, geographical, relationship,
socially, financially, abilities, intellectually, morally.
The why question here is:
“Why didn’t they just _____?” And the answer is because of _____ limitation.
3. Exceptions. - Make sure you understand any exceptions to the rules/restrictions/limitations both clearly and in depth, so you can be consistent in applying them to keep it believable.
The why question here:
“Why could/would they_______ in that situation, and not in this one?”
Remember, as you invest your time to create and craft your stories, you owe it to yourselves and your future readers, to take the time to go deep.