Why are they doing this? Why are they going there? Why? Why? Why? No that isn’t my four-year-old asking the questions. It is my husband as he read drafts during the writing of my trilogy, The Elemental.
And his questions, while annoying sometimes, did help during my revisions to make it a better story. Every author needs to know the why of their character’s actions. Rarely do people do something without a reason. And yes, that reason may only make sense to them but at least there is a reason. And the reader should understand – or somewhat follow the logic behind your character’s actions – or they may become confused and begin to question your scene or even your whole novel. Once they become distracted from the story, they may decide this book just isn’t for them.
I am now in the beginning stages of planning my next novel. And the new question is not necessarily “why” but “why now?” By this I mean, why is THIS story happening now?
I write fantasy so if you are going to have a quest where the hero finds the sword (or spell or amulet) that will allow him to defeat the dark lord and save the world, don’t you have to know why the story is taking place now? If the dark lord has reigned a thousand years why would he be defeated now?
I am making up that story line which of course has nothing to do with the novel I am working on. But really, you do need to decide why your story is happening at this instance.
If you are writing a crime novel, the why actually might be a lot of the story. If you are writing about an abuse victim who fakes their death and starts a new life or kills their abuser, you have to wonder why now? What happened that led them to that point right now verses two years or even six months ago?
Of course there may not be an answer in some of these instances. And if your character has cancer, there is no answer to why this happened now. But often there can be a reason why. Why did the murder take place now? Why did the heroine quit her job today after months (or years) of slaving away at a job she hates?
Part of this covers what spurs your protagonist into action but on the grander scale of things, I am looking at why that event occurred and why at this instance. And maybe it really doesn’t matter in other genres as much as it seems to in a fantasy novel.
If a kingdom has been without a king or in a period of peace or unrest – why would now be the time for a hero or villain to rise? The answer to that may not be obvious, and the reader may never know the full answer but like knowing your character‘s history or building your own fantasy world, a lot of what you write is in the details. In other words, the author needs to know why.