Creative Writing,  Point of View and Character Development,  Structure and Plotting,  Training, Lessons

It’s All About The Why’s

man scratching head - confused

Often, an issue that confounds writers is finding they’ve written themselves into a corner or dead end. They wind up stuck, not knowing what happens next or how to resolve the problem.

Invariably, this comes from not paying attention to the Why’s.

Why would the character do something like that?  Why can’t he just…whatever?  Where does he go from here?

This indecision is usually based on a lack of understanding of the character’s psychology — his motivations, which are based on his flaws and emotional wounds, his deepest fears and his goals, his secret desires and his limiting beliefs.

Every action the character takes has a motive, and it can’t be just that the story needs him to do something at that point.  He must be driven to do so by something he wants, something that worries him or something he’s afraid of.  And that desire must be in conflict with a story situation or another character’s goals and needs.  Otherwise, there’s no story.

Know Your Characters

Go over your current work in progress and look for cause-and-effect.  Find out the real reasons why your character makes the choices he or she does.

Even in autobiographical personal histories, if you dig deeply enough, you can find the root causes of your character’s behaviour, and sometimes this can lead to surprising insights.  You must get to know your character inside and out, in order to discover the reasons he does what he does, or doesn’t do the things he should.

When you know your character, you’ll know his Why’s.

question marks“Why?” Questions

Here are some Why questions you can ask your character (or yourself, if you’re writing autobiographical material.)

  • What’s my character’s greatest goal or desire — what does he want?
  • Why does he want it?
  • Is this his goal throughout the entire story? If not, why not?
  • What else does he want and why?
  • What does he want in each scene?
  • Why does he want it now?
  • What’s stopping him?  Why is it stopping him?
    If it’s another character, why is it so important to that character to stop him? (Motivation)

There are many, many more questions to ask your characters, but Why questions like these can help clarify where (and why!) your story’s stuck.

The more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll get, and sometimes, they can lead you to some surprising conclusions.

Happy Writing,

Bev Signature

Trained as an artist in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I was one of the first creatives to be employed in the computer graphics industry in Toronto during the early 1980’s. For several years, I exhibited my animal portraiture in Canada and the U.S. but when my parents needed care, I began writing as a way to stay close to them. I’ve been writing ever since. I run a highly successful local writer’s circle, teaching the craft and techniques of good writing. Many of my students have gone on to publish works of their own. I create courses aimed at seniors who wish to write memoirs, with a focus on the psychology of creatives and the alleviation of procrastination and writer's block.

2 Comments

  • Lauren Williams

    Hi Bev!
    This is Lauren from Unchained Writers group writing to tell you how helpful your Procrastination article was, and how much I enjoy your brand new newsletter!

    I know how much time, effort, and hair-pulling you have put into this project, and want you to know I think you’ve created excellent product with great writing and loads of much appreciated tips.

    Rooting you on my friend!
    Lauren

    • Beverley Hanna

      Lauren, thanks so much for your support. It’s been an uphill battle, but I think I see light at the end of the tunnel (not that I’m mixing my metaphors or anything! LOL!)

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