In my last post, I talked about how to ask your way though plot and character development. In this post, I want to talk about my favorite question of all: Why?
The reason I like why so much is because the answer to that question provides the motivation or foundation for all of a character’s actions. For example, think about your story’s antagonist. It’s easy for the protagonist to observe or hear about the antagonist’s actions (what he/she does). A smaller group of characters, which may or may not include the protagonist, knows the process or methods the antagonist uses to execute those actions (how the antagonist does it). But why the antagonist does something can only be speculated about unless the antagonist himself/herself reveals the reason to another character. The reader might never find out the antagonist’s motivation. In some cases, even the antagonist might not even be able to explain why he/she does something, but you as the author should know.
In other words, Why? gets to the heart of an issue and reveals the true motivation of a character. Check out the sample questions and answers below to see what I mean.
Why don’t two characters get along?
- Bad or inaccurate first impression
- Personality clash
- Opposing ideologies
- Past history
The answer to this question determines how hard or easy it will be for those two characters to reconcile their differences or if reconciliation is even possible.
Why does a supporting character steal?
- He/She doesn’t have money for food or other necessities
- In his/her (country, family, or friend) culture, stealing is socially acceptable
- Attention seeking
- Sabotage – He/She deliberately steals what someone else needs for a plan to succeed
The answer to this question makes the supporting character likeable, pitiable, reprehensible, or daring. The reason he/she steals is far more interesting than the fact that he/she steals.
Why is the protagonist having recurring nightmares?
- Past trauma
- He/She has been poisoned and hallucinations are a side effect
- Fear or anxiety about an upcoming event
- He/She watches scary movies before bed
- The dreams are divine warnings
Each potential answer gets to the root of the problem, revealing to you as the writer what the protagonist must change or overcome to resolve the conflict.
I hope you have a better idea of why Why? is so important and that the examples help you to apply this essential question to your own writing process.