Writing Craft

Your Story’s Most Important Question | Hope Welborn

In elementary school, we learned about “who, what, where, when, and how” – questions any good narrative should answer to clearly communicate what we’re trying to say.

But I think we do ourselves (and our readers) a disservice if we fail to answer one other question – perhaps the most important question of all… WHY.

Here are three WHYs you must be able to answer about your story:

Why this story?
With all the myriad story ideas swirling around in your brain, and all the story possibilities there are in the world, why do you feel compelled to write this one? What is it about this story that you’re excited about? Why will you sacrifice time and energy to draft, edit, re-write, and re-write…and re-write this story until you get it just right? What truth will your characters (and in turn, your readers) discover through this story? What makes you itch to share it with the world? Your passion for this story will help you keep going when you might otherwise give up. And your passion will come through in your writing, which will make your readers fall in love with the story, too.

WHY these characters?
We all need a good hero, and so does your story. Without compelling characters, your story is just a series of happenings that occur on the page. What makes a character compelling to your reader? The character’s inner journey. Each main character (protagonists and antagonists) must have a GMC (goal, motivation, & conflict). Even more important than what your character wants is why he or she wants it. What is at stake, and why does this matter to him/her? (And why will it matter to the reader?)

Even your Antagonist needs a compelling reason to want the things he/she wants. Why is this person the perfect foil for your Protagonist?

If you are writing a romance, you must also ask why your hero and heroine are destined for each other. (And it can’t simply be because you need them to fall in love for the plot to work!) Why are these two characters perfect for each other? And why can’t they be together? Or why haven’t they realized they should be together until now?

Which brings us to the final question…

WHY now?
Every story needs a starting point, but if we’ve done our jobs right, the reader will get the sense that our characters have existed long before the first page and will continue to exist after “The End.” So, why tell this story about these characters at this particular moment in time?

Because this is the moment when everything changes for your character. And it starts with the Inciting Incident – the thing that happens which changes your character’s “normal” world and thrusts him/her into the plot. The Inciting Incident will be linked to your character’s GMC. It’s that first punch which sets in motion all the dominoes of the rest of the story. It must be compelling enough for the character (and the reader) to choose to walk through that “door of no return” on the quest to reach their goal.

Characters should have a past “wound” which has led them to believe a lie. The plot will cause the Protagonist to face this lie and discover the truth they need to realize to finally become the person they were meant to be.

The “why now” question can be answered based on a person’s age or situation in life; a worldwide (or much smaller scale) circumstance that pulls them out of their comfort zone and into the journey; a season of year, and many other factors. But it should make sense to the reader why this character hasn’t gone on this journey until now.

So, there you have it – the most important question you must be able to answer about your story: WHY? If you can give your readers a compelling reason to care, they will turn page after page, following your characters to their happily ever after. (And hopefully jump at the chance to read your next story, and the next, and the next…)

headshot of Hope Welborn, romantic suspense author

Hope Welborn writes spine-tingling suspense, sprinkled with romance, and saturated with faith. Her manuscripts have won the ACFW Genesis Contest and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Foundations Awards in romantic suspense.

As a #writerwithadayjob, she spends her lunch hours creating small town characters who face big suspense with faith in a big God. She is past president of ACFW North GA (2020 & 2021), editor and web manager for Spark Flash Fiction, and a member of the Suspense Squad.

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