"Why" is a very important question when writing a story. I'm as guilty as anyone else of rushing headlong into a story. In fact, when I first started college, I used to share a story I was working on at the time with my English instructor. She liked it, more or less, but why clued me in on something. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I created worlds and interesting characters. I had tension and conflict. But she was able to stop all of that with a simple question: why?
At the time I was busy writing. I was emulating what I'd read, seen in movies and television, what I'd played in games. I wanted an epic masterpiece, a story that would stretch out over ten novels! My world was vast and expansive, but when asked why my characters did any of the things they did, I was flummoxed. I mean, isn't it obvious? It's an adventure! That wasn't good enough, for her or for me.
I've been looking at my own writing, and my dear wife can attest, I will stop writing dead for hours if not days when I hit the "why" barrier. Why do the Paladins insist on a certain protocol? Why don't they just do this instead? If I can't answer, I'm stuck. I just can't write until I've figured it out or otherwise resolved the issue. And while it's frustrating, I think that it's made my writing all the better. My characters have motivations. My world feels alive.
I've actually been helping a couple of writers with their own work and I think I might be jeopardizing my friendship with them with as many times as I ask "why." Why does this character need to do that? Why does this creature not just get killed the moment it arrives? Why does this group of people agree to something that would make their life miserable? I can see it in their faces and hear the intense frustration in their voices as they try to come up with reasons. I won't say I don't get a little amusement out of it, but at the same time, I see a younger me in that same position. Why? Such a simple question, but it stymied my writing back then and it still does it to promising writers today.
I think it's important to take stock of your characters' motivations. To ask why your world works the way it does. To recount the history of the world leading up to the start of your story. Maybe not at the expense of the story itself, because bad writing can always be edited in better writing, but... it bears consideration while writing. And I think it can really make the difference between a so-so story and a novel that captures a reader.
Be Excellent to Each Other.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.