I’d like to start by saying that the following questions are all questions that writers decide on subconsciously and instinctively every time they set out to write a story. However, after a writer has written a fair bit, there comes a time when they might start being a little more conscious of craft, storytelling and their creative decisions.
I firmly believe that this type of questioning makes for better stories. I’d also suggest that a lot of books that have been deemed problematic or plain bad are from people who didn’t ask enough “why” questions.
People who do outlines probably ask themselves a variety of these questions (subconsciously perhaps) while outlining. I don’t outline, but I think I’d like to be a little more intentional with my writing in 2021 and this is the way I am going to go about it.
To clarify: I don't mean one should question why they write. Nope. People write for all kinds of reasons and they're all valid. What I mean is that it's useful to question what drives their creative decisions.
Examples re: craft:
Why am I writing 1st/3rd POV? (because I want to is a valid answer, but keep in mind that different POVs have different possibilities and it's a good idea to take advantage of what your choice offers you)
Why am I writing present tense/past tense?
Why am I killing this character? (raping/torturing/abducting)
Why am I including this plot twist? (if it is because you want to shock the readers, don’t. If it is because it’s the only thing that makes sense once you consider everyone’s motivations, carry on)
Why is my romantic couple arguing/breaking up here? (if it’s because you want to insert some tension so you resort to forcing some sort of conflict, delete and rewrite. If it’s because their past decisions have led them to it, carry on).
Why am I the one telling this story/writing from the POV of this particular identity?
Why am I writing a sequel to this story?
It can apply to your characters’ actions:
Why is the MC being rude here when this isn’t the way they are in the rest of my story? (Am I trying to create some tension/angst? If so, revise and adapt the story according to your characterisation.)
Why is this secondary character so mean? (am I writing a caricature of "mean person", or is there an aspect of their personality at play?)
Why is my heroine sacrificing herself in this instance? Is she the self-sacrificing sort or am I just seeking an easy way out?
Why is the villain attempting to do x when y would be a much more logical path for them? (if the answer is that doing y would mean I need to revise my plot, then revise your plot)
&c &c &c
I don’t suggest people ask all those questions all the time, it’s exhausting. But being conscious of decisions you already make subconsciously helps to be clearer about what you’re setting out to do.
There’s no judgment here: if the answer to writing self-sacrificing heroines and stupid villains is “that's what I like and I want to keep doing it”, by all means, carry on. There’s no right answer to each of these questions, simply an opportunity for reflection.
Why not is also a crucial question to ask. Very useful when dealing with doubts.
“I shouldn’t include this kissing/fighting/chase scene.” Why not?
--because, although I love it, it’ll massively slow down my pacing and perhaps it's repetitive --> cut it
--because, although I love it, readers might not like to read about kisses or car chases --> keep it. Sure, some readers might not like them, but many others would love them. The important thing is that the scene adds to character and/or plot.
“I shouldn't add this subplot about fairies/ghosts.” Why not?
--because I'm indulging myself and it's completely irrelevant to the rest of the story --> cut it.
--because I’m indulging myself and although I love how it connects to the book's themes, I fear the readers might not grasp the connection --> keep it. Or not, but know why.
And so on.
Taking the time to be thoughtful about my writing is my goal for 2021. What is yours?
Cat Wolfe has had a terrible writing year. Thank God for the Untamed/CQL/MDZS fandom.