Asking and answering “why?” brings layers to the story. It helps us dig deeper into our characters’ motivations and perspectives. It shows how the past impacts the present. It helps us understand a character’s choices, actions, motivations. It brings meaning to a physical object.
“Why” allows us to cut a beloved sentence or scene. It leads to those “ah-ha!” moments, the surprising moments when you discover something new, unusual, or shocking about your character. In turn, you now have the perfect environment to create a moment that’s completely unexpected.
Recently, a writer friend had me read part of her manuscript. She wrote, “If I leave now, I’ll be home by three o’clock.”
This sentence stood out because I didn’t understand why it was there. What purpose does it serve? Why is getting home by three o’clock important to the story? (She never answered that within her novel.) When I asked her, she said it really didn’t have any importance. She cut it! Do you have sentences like that?
MIT professor and award-winning author, Laura Harrington, said that every word you write in your novel must have muscle. If a scene serves several purposes, even better. Always pay attention to your whys?!
Me Before You author Jojo Moyes once told me that she never regretted anything she cut, only the things she didn’t cut. Think about it: Why is this scene important?
To help you with your writing, I’ve created a WHY list of questions. Good luck!
Liza Wiemer is an award-winning educator with over twenty-five years of teaching experience. Hello?, her debut realistic contemporary YA novel, is set in Door County, Wisconsin and was published by Spencer Hill Press, NY. It was named a Goodreads Best Young Adult Novel and was on Milwaukee County Bestseller’s List for four weeks. Paste Magazine called it “one the most original novels of the year.” In addition, Liza has had two adult non-fiction books published through Random House and Gefen Publishing. Several of her short stories were included in the New York Times bestselling Small Miracles series. A die-hard Packer fan and graduate of UW-Madison, she’s married with two sons. Find her on Twitter: @lizawiemer.