Writing about "Why"

Guest blog by Bluffton University student Ben Weaver

When coming up with new fiction work, one of the main questions you should be asking yourself is ‘why?’ Why is my character doing what they’re doing? Why is my character vital to the story? Why is the antagonist against the protagonist? Why do my characters feel the way they do, and behave the way they do? The question should always be why, because that’s exactly what your readers are going to be asking. We can use the short story, as an example of questions asked and answered throughout the story.

A reader’s first questions are ‘what are the variables?’ and ‘what is the conflict?’. In the story written by Holly Goddard Jones, these questions are answered as we read, rather than all at once. Life Expectancy is about a high school girls’ basketball coach, named Theo, who is struggling with a home life that he isn’t satisfied with, and ends up having an affair with one of his players, named Josie.

However, the variables of Theo’s predicament are not given right away, they are given throughout the story. The more we read, the more questions are answered. In the beginning of the story, Holly Goddard Jones gives us hints about the relationship between the two characters by showing us the jealous thoughts Theo is having when he sees Josie flirting with another boy. By the end of the beginning page, we know that the two characters are having sex when Josie tells Theo that she’s pregnant. So far, the only variable in the story is the fact that a coach got a student pregnant. By the end of the second page, we learn why this is even worse than it originally seemed since we figure out that Theo has a wife and a terminally sick baby, which is when we learn the true extent of Theo’s conflict in the story.

The readers next question may be ‘why is Theo having an affair with a student?’. Holly Goddard Jones answers this question in the next few pages, when Theo goes home to his wife and child. She doesn’t full-out state that his home life is unsatisfactory to him, but she tells the reader by showing how he sees his surroundings at home, by describing the unpleasantness he feels when he walks through his own door.

A final question the reader would ask is ‘why is Theo having an affair with Josie, out of all the other female players on his team?’. This question is answered toward the middle of the story, when Theo thinks back to the first time he kissed Josie, giving specific details on the circumstances of their first kiss which led to their affair.

These are only a few of the main questions that Holly Goddard Jones brings up in her story, and shows us how she properly answers them while keeping the story flowing.

Using this method of answering “why” questions used in Life Expectancy, look back through one of your fiction stories (short or long), and identify any why questions that your reader may have that you have not yet answered

  • Why are my characters’ doing what they’re doing?
  • Why are they important to the story?
  •  Why are the events happening in the story?

The questions could be basic, or they could be specific to your story. Every reader has questions, and it is the job of the writer to answer them while keeping the reader interested in the story.

Good luck!