Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The "Why" Factor

This last week a new story popped into my head.

The characters lined up at the door. Settings peeked through the windows. Oh, and the competition between loud adventurous and soft romantic made me dizzy.

A whole bag of plot pieces popped like popcorn. Yes, yes. This could make a good story, oh and I like that, too. This would be a great way to carry the story question.

And then the thought came. Where should it take place? This particular idea required the perfect setting. It would be an entirely different story based on the location.

Pressure mounted. If I set the story in America, certain essential components could not be included. If I set the story in an unfamiliar country it may not attract many readers. Hmm, such decisions.

I started asking questions of my new story. Questions that needed solid answers to provide a solid foundation. Questions which could be asked by judges, crit partners, and friends as they read the story.

The Why Factor

Here are some questions to ask your WIP

Why does my WIP take place _______?
Why is _____ the best hero or heroine for this WIP?
Why did the story head in ______ direction, did it answer a question?
Why did the climax come at ____ point?
Why this ending?
(there are many more potential why questions!)

Here is a test for the story Cinderella

1. Why does the story take place in a medieval home near a king's castle

Could the story have taken place in China before communist days, Siam, the days of Esther, Monaco, England, or America? Actually, yes. I am told the first recorded version of Cinderella took place in China. Queen Esther was a Hebrew slave. There are many versions of this story, each with a different setting, each resulting in a different story.

What about your WIP? Let's play a game. What if your story took place in Europe, Africa, or South America...or what if it took place in the jungle, desert, or big city...what if it took place in a high-rise apartment, farmhouse, or cabin in the woods how would it change? Could it help?

2.  Why is there a poor maiden trapped in her situation, an eligible prince, and a wicked stepmother?

Could the story have been as successful using a poor farm boy, a displaced American Indian, a rich landowner's daughter, a famous explorer, a spoiled prince, a dictator, or employer? Probably. But would it have been as good? Maybe.

What about your WIP? Could your MC have a different hair color, gender, age, race, political belief, have an accent from Texas, be a nerd, the president's daughter, the CEO's son, a gang leader's wife, have freckles, a spot on their nose, bad breath, fashionable, a slob, gossip, introvert, allergic to flowers or cologne, have hearing problems, a limp, or can't dance? How would he/she change? Could it help spice your story?

3. Why was the Prince given the opportunity to pick a bride at the ball?

Could the story have worked had he gone on a walk along the shore and saw...her, sailed to another country and met...her, walked out to the crops and saw...her gleaming barley dropped by a paid a worker, (Ruth), or tripped over her cart in the marketplace and spilled tomatoes across the road?

What about your WIP? Could the hero meet the heroine in a different time or place in the story? What if, instead, they met on a beach, sat at the next table in a restaurant, on an airplane, at a concert, walking in a park, in a library, on a whitewater raft, hot air balloon ride, an amusement park, courtroom, hospital, or train? Could it help add the perfect touch?

I suppose we all could collaborate and write a book of why questions, which would be a little longer than the Alley Cats would want for a post. Hopefully I’ve stirred your thoughts and have led you to put your WIP to the test.

By having strong answers to these and other why questions, your WIP will stand strong in the eyes of crit partners, judges, editors and readers. When he or she asks why did you ____ or could you have ____, you will be ready with an answer.

How about you? Pick a why question about your WIP and give us your strong defense. Or add a new why question for us to consider.


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This blog post by Mary Vee.
Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes Christian young adult fiction (pirate tales, missionary and Bible adventure stories).

Her Tag: Stepping into Someone Else's World.

To learn more about Mary, 


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I recorded a vlog. I'm just working up the courage to post it. But in my vlog I talk all about the why (and how I'm not afraid of it).

Great post!
~ Wendy

Joanne Sher said...

What a fabulous post, Mary! I definitely need to do this with my current WIP!

Unknown said...

Loved this! It adds so much more power and poignancy to a story when we've got a firm grip on those "why" answers!

Casey said...

WENDY, you need to post it!!! :D

Mary, you and I must be on the same wave length, because I started a new story this week too. Great WHY questions to ask. :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Your vlog would be great for us to see. Let us know when you post it.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Glady you stopped by. You do know the usual reason for a post choice is the writer saw the need in herself. Guilty as charged.
Let me know if you found something awesome to add, spruce, tweak in your WIP.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

So true. I guess that is what the judges, crit partners and friends were doing for me this last year. And I must admit, thanks to the why questions they asked, the story is so much better.
Standing inside of the plot gets comfortable, we don't always realize what others don't see.
Thanks for stopping by, Mellssa.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Got to find out what the new story plot is. I'll be emailing you later.

Embrace said...

Hi Mary,
Thanks for the post. It has got me thinking.
Most of my stories come with a setting already but sometimes the ideas come with a vague setting and I have to find the matching location. For instance one of them involves a tribal village. I know that and it is crucial to the plot so I need to research and find the right tribal village. A little tricky as most don't have websites!!

Another why question I ask myself is why a character has a certain mannerism or behaviour? and is it necessary?

I will put my WIP to the test today I think.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Oooo, I like this! I think one of the biggest whys comes down to the MC's motivations. Why does she want what she wants? Why does it mean so much to her? What about her past has brought her to this point?

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Mary, I've been playing around with a Cinderella story! So, obviously, I love the questions in your post. I'm going to think about some of them so I can help plot my story :)

Ruth Douthitt said...

Great post! I hadn't thought about the why's....but why is my story taking place?

I want to encourage teen Christians to keep the faith and endure. That they are Overcomers in Christ!

Keli Gwyn said...

"Why?" is such a great question for us to ask ourselves. As you said, Mary, it forces us to defend our choices.

Why did I set my debut novel in California? I live here and have a firsthand knowledge of the places and unique culture in the Golden State. A woman could own a business in California from the Gold Rush days onward. Since my heroine wanted to open shop, the setting I chose made the story possible.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I like your new why question. Sometimes the new mannerism or behavior may not really be necessary to the plot, but serves like the chocolate dripping on ice scream, it just makes it better. Sometimes it's like saurkraut on ice cream...not needed. Thanks for the added why question for us to ask. :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Your new why question is super. It leads to deeper thinking-deeper plot twists- wowsers, to answer those questions would add sparkle.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

That's great. Can you stop back and leave an example what you found?

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

You have found a great story question. To be able to put a great answer to the why question you chose, like you did, will only help your story to be tops.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

You are ever the helpful servant. Thanks for sharing the answer from your book with us.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oooh! Okay, I can give an example but I don't want to give too much of my story away, so it might be kind of vague :) I've been struggling with my character's occupation, so I had to ask myself WHY does she have this particular job? When it comes down to what I chose, she has this particular job because it enhances her personality (the dreamer), it enhances the conflict, and it will definitely up the stakes when the climax comes about. the end, giving her the occupation I did is, at least in my opinion, totally justified and perfect for my plot.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Great, Cindy.
I'm so glad you stopped back. The thinking and processing you did with the MC's job to reinforce personality, conflict, and expanding the climax. Wowsers that's exactly what we're talking about: going deeper with the why questions to sharpen our story.
Great example
Thanks so much, Cindy

Anonymous said...

That Why essntial to add depth to a story. :) Loved your Why questions, Mary. I'm revamping my story, and I think I'm going to ask these questions in the next few days. :)

When developing my characters, I often asked them,"Why?" when they showed something else to me. I kept digging with "Why?" until I got to the root of why they do certain things, or what they believe based on what happened earlier in their lives.

Loved your practical post, Mary!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Great idea to dig deeper.
Your comment made me think of how a child says "why" then after the answer repeats the question and continues doing so until the listener gets tired of the game. Think of all that little one learns with each level of the why question. The same applies with your idea.
Thanks for sharing your fab thinking of asking why more than once. :)

Angie Dicken said...

Wonderful post, Mary! I will definitely refer to this when I get the courage to begin a new wip!!:)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Yeah, Ang. I know. Life and processing the last completed work is time consuming.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, Mary, I love the way you think. Great post! :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks, Sarah :)