The Whys

When I talk to people in classes, I often mention asking yourself, as you write, why and what questions.
This morning I will write some questions you can answer about your WIP. And maybe other things, too.

So let’s go.
1. Why does your novel start where it starts?

2. Why is your novel set in the place you have chosen?

3. What would happen if you set the book elsewhere?
Think about The Hunger Games or Harry Potter–or even my book The Chosen One. Setting matters. It can become a character.

4. Why do you need to know, in 25 words or less, what your story is about?

5. What is your story about?

6. Why is your main character your main character?

7. What would happen if you changed things up and made a secondary character the main character? 8. Would your story change? 9. Why?

10. Why does your character do what she does?
There are a couple questions that come out of this question that don’t start with why. Like, 10 A Are her actions coming naturally out of the story or 10 B are you making things happen the way you think they should because you thought you had an end in mind and the book has changed directions?

11. Why have you chosen these secondary characters?

12. Why is the story moving in the direction it is?

13. Why is the climax what it is?

14. What are you doing to mine the story, the characters, the plot?
Surface writing makes the story flat, makes your characters flat, gives little ooompf to the page. You can have a story with lots of words and nothing happening. So make sure you mine your work, get below the surface writing, and into the heart of the story.

15. Why does your character say what she says? 15 A Is this her? 15 B Or is this you? Make her real! Not an older person. Even Kyra, who is not much older than 17, has to keep her main character 17 and not let her become 22–ever. That’s called author intrusion. I don’t care what your politics are or what religion you love when I am reading your book. In fact, I don’t care what you love or hate. Period. I care about your character and I want to stay in her head, not get into yours.

16. What made your character do what she just did? 16 A Was that natural to the story or are you forcing things around?
I just met with a good friend (and won’t mention names in case he doesn’t want me to) who said, “I have always been the peacemaker so I never let bad things happen to my character.” An important observation on his part. Now he can fix that.

17. What are your observations about you as a writer?

18. What do you do consistently right in your writing? 18 A Are you even aware of the good things you do in your novels? You should be. This can make you a better writer.

19. What do you do wrong? 19 A This is as important as 18. If you know you write weak sense of place, description, setting, well, just knowing that fact can help you paint a better picture because you are aware of the weakness.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses makes you a better writer. I promise. But you can’t approach the novel like this “Oh no! I have to have a plot. I can’t just do great dialog and characters. I have to have a plot! A plot! Why don’t I write better plots?” Instead, go in and do what you do PLUS make life difficult for your character PLUS make them want something you won’t give them and you will be doing a-okay. Whatever you do, don’t just not write because you can’t do plot.

20. Why are you writing this particular novel?

That’s enough why and what questions for today. I have pages to send to my agent. So I’m outta here.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Whys

  1. Kyra

    There are hard questions to answer.

    hahahah just kidding.

  2. Great list of questions! I was copying this to keep a hard copy next to my computer, and wondered if it would be OK if I made copies for my class in Sandy? Complete attribution, of course, along with the URL for your group blog. I’d love to use it, if you don’t object.

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