Imagine for a moment a time not so far from now. All your hard work has come to fruition. You’ve been published. You’ve made bestseller lists. You’ve won over hordes of fans. There are tours and signings and interviews. You’ve even been invited to speak at a convention where no one can get enough of you. You’re the life of the party and the star of the panel. Then the floor opens up for questions. Your self-proclaimed greatest fan ever is the first to the microphone. They excitedly ask why Bob, though clearly literate, always signs his name as just an X. To which you reply, “Well, I just thought it was an interesting quirk.”
What a letdown. No worse answer could be provided. Even if it didn’t make sense, anything would have been better.
Having reasons for things is a necessity in writing. Without reasons, our writing is paper-thin. It’s shallow and hollow. Worse yet, it stunts our writing and our potential as writers. There’s some good news, though. One simple question can fix the problem: Why?
Everything happens for a reason. Ask why of everything. If you don’t have an answer, find one. It doesn’t matter if Bob signs with an X because he doesn’t know cursive due to being homeschooled through elementary school or because he signed the wrong paper one day in college and had his identity stolen because of it. Either way, you now know more about Bob. Bob is a more complete character, with a more fleshed out history and personality. He’s more real. And isn’t real what we, as writers, are going for?
You don’t have to stuff the reason into your writing, though. If the explanation comes up naturally then have at it. Otherwise, tuck it away for your own personal giggles—and for those future fans eagerly awaiting you at conventions and signings.
The greatest casualty of not knowing reasons is you. Forget the fans. Forget the interviews and conventions. You’re shortchanging yourself. Your potential can never be reached if you can’t master the art of asking why. The characters, the histories, the places, and everything else you create will never reach its full potential without being questioned. The answer to why a monster in a cave has a magic ring can lead to an explosion of new ideas and new potential stories. They would never have been discovered if you’d just been content with the surface idea and never asked why. Why is the ring magical? Why does the monster want it so badly? Why is the monster in a cave? Why is it in this cave? Why this monster? You can only benefit from asking why.
“Why” is a catalyst for greatness. Don’t just listen to me, though. Go back to your favorite literature and analyze it. Do you think the author stopped at surface ideas or did they explore the why of things?
So let’s try this again. You’re asked why Bob signs his name as an X. To which you respond, “Well, his mother is very gullible. She was told by a neighbor once that public schools are corrupting the youth and she bought into it. She pulled Bob from school and taught him at home. It took a couple years for her to realize her mistake, though, and that she just couldn’t handle teaching Bob. She enrolled him in a private school but Bob never learned how to write in cursive. He’s too self-conscious of this to fix the problem so instead he just signs with an X.”
I like it! I think you've covered the subject fully, as opposed to your statement in the description. It makes sense. This will most likely help me out in the future: I usually fail to ask "why." So thank you.
I would have taken the first answer but I agree with you: there should be some reason. I once thought it would be nice to have a character who gets drunk on strawberries and strawberry-related things and I worked out the reason that his race cannot get drunk on alcohol because it is poisonous so their bodies adapt another substance that will derive pleasure to take its place. It started off random, like everything else, but then came into reason. In fact, now that I think about it, I have a lot of quirky characters...
Thaaaaaank you! Thank you so much for writing this! I try my best to ask why in real life (which makes my math teatchers want to pull out their hair) but for some reason, I tend to forget it in writing. I've been better at it, but i haven't really thought about it. Great example in the beginning, too - because you tell us why, which stresses the point even more. And you're right, asking why also makes the characters more interesting and gives them more depht. I tried to ask a few 'why's and found out interesting things about my characters ^^
I've heard it's pretty usual for aspergers, but thank you for the reminder ^^ You also learned me how useful it is.
I know that, too. My handwriting is pretty. Why? because I was ashamed of my childish letters and one day decided to sit down and practice a handwriting I would like. I always have earphones in my ears, even if I'm not listening to music. Why? I don't have a clue! It just makes me feel ... safe, somehow. Closing the world out. Dunno why I need that, but if there is a pair of earphones, I have to have them on NAO! And getting sticky or wet hands make me feel unclean and I don't want to touch things, even if it's soap that's on them. I always sit on my knees, also on a chair.
But (I don't mean to stalk, was just interested in other peoples opinions of this subject) if I may take the example with the small hearts over the i's. I think they might do it because they've seen other doing it, and wants to fit in. Kind of a reason too, like the wolf-fursona trend. A fursona is meant to represent you, you make it a wolf, maybe to symbolize mystery or, I dunno. What it ends up symbolizing is mainstream and might mean you are trying to fit in. Aaaand Sasiadragon got sidetracked again.
(All of your tutorials are wonderful, by the way. I've been stuck with my story for a while and decided to explore the depths of dA-litterature-tutorials to find out why. Yours really made an impact. My only complain is that they're too short, and there's to few of them )
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