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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.”

A little better, yeah?
As always, I worry I haven't fully covered the subject. :blush: Let me know if this makes sense or not.

PS: The whole "why" thing works wonders in life outside writing, too. ;)
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:iconnysa-nightsong:
Nysa-Nightsong Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2013  Student Writer
Haha, funny thing is most homeschoolers I've met were extremely precocious and very advanced in their scholastic skills. jussayin'. =P
Good points about knowing 'why' is important.
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:iconmagneticecho:
magneticecho Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
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. ;)
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:iconkikumizu:
KikuMizu Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2013
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...
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:icongrumpy-old-snake:
Grumpy-Old-Snake Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2013  Student
...wish I could get away with signing my name as just my initials or something. ^^;
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:iconsasiadragon:
Sasiadragon Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
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 ^^
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2013  Student Writer
Fantastic! I'm tickled to hear this tactic is paying off already! Sounds like you're an old hand with asking "why" of things and just needed a reminder to apply it elsewhere. :)

Don't forget, though, that there isn't always some grand psychological reason for everything. Some things are just habit. :) I should probably work that into this guide...
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:iconsasiadragon:
Sasiadragon Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
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. :shrug:

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 :crying: )
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:iconthenighttimewanderer:
TheNighttimeWanderer Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2013  Student Writer
An excellent guide all writers should study in order to perfect their craft.
I will be referring to this time and time again in the future to make my work better.

Don't know where you got the inspiration to devise this, but its certainly welcome :)
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Student Writer
Belated thanks for the response! I really appreciate it. :)

This is actually a concept my best friend has instilled in me. He's a veteran storyteller of (I think) the greatest kind. He doesn't really write, though, so I translated his idea into writing.

I'm tickled you've found it useful. :hug:
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:iconthenighttimewanderer:
TheNighttimeWanderer Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Student Writer
Its more than useful :)
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:iconasjjohnson:
AsjJohnson Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
It kind of makes you wonder if the girls who put hearts above all their i's have a reason for doing it, or if it's just an odd quirk. ^_^"
hmm... I've always written u's with tails, even if it's a capital U. Not really sure why. But I suppose if I really think about it, there's probably a reason. Whether because I like support and subconsciously add the tail for it to lean on, or if I just thought of the letter u as like the letter s when I was really young and assumed both versions should look the same (or associated u's with n's). But, when I write U, it just looks like something's missing without the tail. And I'm too stubborn to 'correct' my uppercase U's.
But, I do know why I don't sign my name in cursive. I did for a few years in school, when teachers wanted me to write in cursive, but afterward none of my future teachers cared, so I quit writing in cursive (I never really liked it, anyhow). I did notice, however, that I'd gotten kind of sloppy with writing when writing quickly (I also think it's kind of neat how the pencil and trail, making my writing seem not-quite-cursive). I thought my name looked prettier that way than when I write it in cursive. And it's more 'me' that way. So I just write my name as fast as I can to sign things.

Hmm... I probably shouldn't try applying writing tips with my life... >_>" But, I guess I feel as though people can have a few odd quirks that don't mean much, and thus so can characters. But I also think it's good to be able to think about that character's personality and experiences when you come up with a quirk to make sure it sounds right. Like if there's a big muscley guy who dots his i's with hearts... his personality may not fit with that habit (though, it can, but it really depends on the character). I probably wouldn't come up with real reasons behind every little thing, but I would probably have a broad reason for most things.
For Bob, my first thought would probably be to say he signs his name with an X because he thinks it's cool (he's probably seen a lot of old movies with illiterate people doing it). Because if I did that, that would be my reason, fitting with my personality of being a bit defiant and sometimes having an odd sense of humor.
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Student Writer
You're absolutely right. Not every little quirk has a deep, profound reason. A lot of things are just habit or done because we think they're cool. That's good enough reason. We don't have to have a Freud-quality reason for everything. But there are still always reasons, profound or not, which you illustrate with why you don't sign your name in cursive. I used to write lower case a's just like they show up on the computer because I thought it looked fancy and it was different from how I did it before. No serious reason. On the other hand, I keep my own pens for use at work. Why? They're kept cleaner this way and I grow too attached to objects due to hoarding tendencies. I also tend to have trouble throwing away the empty ones for the same reason...

There's nothing wrong with applying writing tips to life, as long as they're relevant. For example, asking why of things should be an instinctual reaction to everything. Why did someone smile after telling you something? It might be because they thought they were clever or funny. Why is the moon bigger when it's closer to the horizon? Because the refraction of light through the atmosphere at that angle magnifies things. I could go on but I think you get my point. :) And this post has gotten long enough... :lol:
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:iconsilveressbelle:
SilveressBelle Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Student Writer
Outside of completely agreeing with your point, I have to say I'm massively (possibly overly) happy to see this point being made.
A lot of people don't get why I'm always mulling over details and coming up with weird little facts and explanations and that's kind of frustrating sometimes, so reading about it (and how important it is) feels very liberating, as confirmation usually is, because this is mostly exactly how I feel about the matter.

Just yesterday I was indecisive about a character's eye-colour and asked a friend to help me decide and he didn't understand at all. 'Why does it matter? It's not important.' was my reaction, even after I explained to him that the character's eyes were either going to be an important part of a future story or very important for the character's development.

From now on, when this happens, I think I'll just tell them that one day, when I'm a famous author, people might ask me about a character's eye colour and I want to have a valid answer. :P

anyway, back to the point.

I really enjoyed reading this, you make, as I said, a very good point and you wrote it down very well. Kudos to you, especially because of the PS, because asking questions is always important.

:heart:
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Feb 8, 2013  Student Writer
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! :hug: I really appreciate it.

I must admit I'm saddened by the pervasive lack of interest in details. Even in life, people just accept things and move on. They don't want to know why something is the case so they can find a connecting vein of logic and reason. They just do as they're told and move on with their day... It's very sad. I wish the education system would integrate logic into the curriculum at a young age. That would help with so much. And I think I'm rambling. :giggle:

Anyway. I'm happy to have provided you some liberating confirmation and, possibly, a means of getting a shadow of the importance of reason in detail across to those who might help you in your writing. :)
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:iconsilveressbelle:
SilveressBelle Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2013  Student Writer
you are more than welcome, your writing deserves it!

I really hate the sort of 'listen and repeat' way of teaching kids stuff. I mean, I'm aware that not everybody might be interested in the details of, I don't know, shakespeare (or the other way around, atomsplicing or whatever) and can live a fulfilling life without the knowledge, but like you said, it's important for so much more than just those things. I was lucky my environment supported my curiosity, but there are many people who didn't have that privilege.
and by all means, ramble away

And I thank you again for your wonderful writing. :) keep on going!
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2013  Student Writer
It's clearly an effective approach to instilling information in youth, the "listen and repeat" style, but it intrinsically instills terrible habits. So many issues today are caused by people just having unfounded beliefs that they can't stand being challenged. They have no basis for their beliefs other than that's the way they were taught or what they were told. They don't think critically about things and just accept the skin of the issue. Our educational system needs a serious overhaul... :no:
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:iconsilveressbelle:
SilveressBelle Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2013  Student Writer
It's effective, and even useful in some situations, but it is indeed sad that there is little that balances this style of education. It's a big what if scenario, but it's nice to think of a world where we'd be actively taught to think for ourselves.
Not that it's bad to not put a question mark after every sentence, of course not, but it'd be nice to be able to have people open for options that might contradict with what they thought before. That's hard when it's basically ingrained in their systems.

Then again, that would also leave me without my fierce moments of surprise pride and happiness over seeing someone question what he or she is told, for it would be a normal thing, but that's just a tiny selfish part and you're right, but I have hope for this generation :)
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2013  Student Writer
I think there's a growing trend of questioning things. It's slow, and our educational system isn't really helping, but I think it's there. I just wish it were faster. Maybe I should withhold judgment on this particular thing until I've gotten out of one of the worst places for stubborn beliefs in the US. My view will hopefully change once I'm in a more liberal area. And, really, we tend to only hear about the failings of society through the media.
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:iconmonstroooo:
monstroooo Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I think this is a REALLY crucial point:
"You don’t have to stuff the reason into your writing, though.
You're right that you should question everything in your stories - from character's motivations, to quirks, to locations, to why a certain scene is set in a certain place (and I might argue that you could go into more depth about when you should as 'why'). But having a reason and including the reason are two very separate issues. That sentence is probably the most important in the whole guide, and I think it could benefit from a little more emphasis.
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Student Writer
I completely agree on the importance of that statement. So much in fact that I plan on writing a guide at some point addressing it. I've yet to figure out my approach though so for now it remains "in the works". :D
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:iconmusicmaumau:
MusicMauMau Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012
I think this is an important aspect of writing that not everyone realizes- even I didn't realize it until I read this. You make a great point. :)
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012  Student Writer
This is definitely one of those writing elements that's hard to pick up from reading others' work due to its subtlety. One of the most important aspects of it is not dumping all the reasons on your readers so often readers don't even realize there's this wealth of underlying information. I'm glad you enjoyed my guide and thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment. :hug:
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:iconrobinchanop:
robinchanop Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Good point-- I hate it when that happens...
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Student Writer
Me too. :) (clearly)
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:iconrobinchanop:
robinchanop Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
haha!
thanks for the llama!
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Student Writer
You're welcome. :D
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:iconzedna7:
Zedna7 Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Student Digital Artist
good idea, I'm a drawe, but I'll definately keep the 'why' in my head :dance:
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Student Writer
Glad to hear it. :) Asking why things are the way they are in pictures can produce fun results, too... Like why is someone wearing what they are? There could be a hidden story in there you can giggle about.
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:iconzedna7:
Zedna7 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2012  Student Digital Artist
very true ;] 'why' is indeed a good word
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:icondiddyjakal:
DiddyJakal Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012
Now this is incredibly insightful. Nice work.
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Student Writer
Thank you. :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!
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:icongrimaldo-j:
Grimaldo-J Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm always thinking about that when I'm writing my story. But when is detailing and giving a backstory to a character's quirk (even if it may or may not appear in the final story) too much?
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Student Writer
Glad to hear it!

As for when it's too much, I don't have an answer for that. I can't help but think there is one, though. I just can't think of any indicators. There's certainly a point at which it's too much (you don't need an epic history for everything... that's just burdensome) and there's certainly a point at which it's not enough. That suggests there's a line in there somewhere. I don't feel comfortable with just saying "it's one of those art things... ya just gotta feel it out" but I unfortunately don't know what else to say at this point in time. Are you satisfied with the detailing? If it still seems lacking, keep going! If it seems like too much, pull back a little.

If you've any thoughts on the matter, I'd love to hear them. :) Thanks for the awesome question!
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:iconcrazy-aika:
crazy-aika Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
What a new way to present this subject, i have never thought that deep about the things my characters do, i ask "why?" but maybe not enough.
Thank you, it was fantastic n.n!
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Student Writer
I am just tickled that I've helped open your eyes to this! :w00t: If you practice asking "why?" of things, you're going to have a greater experience with writing (it may be frustrating to cover everything but it is so rewarding!!) and a greater product in the end. :)
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:iconcrazy-aika:
crazy-aika Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I know! But when you finish your work the sensation is amazing nOn.
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Student Writer
Absolutely. :) I remember when I finished writing my first book. I held a little one-man party for about fifteen minutes straight. :giggle:
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:iconclockwisedream:
ClockwiseDream Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
A very interesting way of presenting good point. It makes perfect sense :D
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Student Writer
Fantastic! And thank you. :)
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:iconclockwisedream:
ClockwiseDream Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
You're welcome. I actually used the method of asking why while writing some things down today xD
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Student Writer
Did it yield worthwhile results?
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:iconclockwisedream:
ClockwiseDream Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I think it did. I came up with a few good explanations about some things that appeared in the chapter. :D
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Student Writer
Excellent! :D I'm tickled to hear it's workin' out for ya so far.
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:iconvertfaere:
VertFaere Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Makes perfect sense to me. Of course, when I ask that..not all my characters cooperate..
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Student Writer
:giggle: Maybe they just need to be reminded who made them...
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:iconvertfaere:
VertFaere Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
That is why I have the plain of idea's. It's covered in a thick fog swarming with bits and pieces of story that I can't seem to fit in. So I let them float there until they form something I can use. When my characters don't cooperate..I put my idea about them in there and let them have a time out. It seems to work.
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:iconfaraleigh:
Faraleigh Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Student Writer
:giggle: Excellent. That's way better than what I was thinking. Probably far more effective, too...
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