The Importance of "Why?"
When plotting your story there are key factors to establish at overall story and scene level:
1) Who (characters)
2) What (goal/result)
3) When (timeline)
4) Where (setting)
The most important and often overlooked question is:
5) Why (motive)
Faulty logic and missing motive are plot holes that cause reader disconnect. The reader growls and shrieks, “The character would never do that!” or with a woeful sigh, “I guess the script called for it.”
At best, readers smirk and continue to read. At worst, they stop reading and never pick up another book you’ve penned. Fleshing out your cast with believable motivations makes them feel real. When you provide the characters with believable obstacles, the reader cares what happens.
Thinking writers, or planners, enjoy selecting obstacles before sitting down to write. They use brief notes or full character and plot outlines before typing “Chapter One.” Feeling writers, or pantsers, balk at the idea of outlining. They prefer to channel motive based on their understanding of human nature and their life experience. Their characters “write themselves.” Whether you plan or wing it, you should take a hard look at the finished draft and ask tough questions at scene and overall story level:
1. Did the scene contain conflict?
2. What did my character do or not do, say or not say?
3. Why did he do it or say it?
4. Did it fulfill my intention?
5. Was the motivation believable (not necessarily rational)?
6. Does the conflict serve the plot in an effective way?
7. How does overcoming, or failing to overcome, the obstacle lead to further conflict?
8. What does overcoming, or failing to overcome, the obstacle force the character to do next?
9. What is the price for failing?
10. What is the prize for succeeding?
The answers to the above questions are critical when the scene involves main characters. The answers are important for the rest of the cast unless they are walk-ons who serve minimal to no plot function. Secondary characters should serve a purpose when they appear. It’s more effective if they have an opinion on, or stake in, the overall story problem and the thematic argument at the heart of it.
Secondary characters and their subplots or story threads should slow down, complicate, or accelerate the protagonist’s and antagonist’s progress toward their story goals. Secondary characters and subplots that run alongside the main plot as a distraction encourage readers to flip past those pages. Secondary characters help supply the friction in your fiction.
Posted by Diana Hurwitz