Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Importance of Asking Why by Lisa Jordan

Before I became the Operations Manager for My Book Therapy in June 2017, I’d spent the previous nineteen years owning and operating my in-home childcare program. While working as an early childhood educator, one of the children’s most common questions was, “Why?”
 
Sound familiar? I’m sure if you’ve been around a child for any length of time, that question popped up. 
 
Children ask this question constantly because they are sponges, soaking up all kinds of information. If they’re given one answer, chances are they’ll continue asking why to find another. Sure, it can be annoying, but it’s how they learn. Many times I’d ask them why and they’d usually tell me "because."

One of the best bits of writing advice came from a workshop I attended years ago at an ACFW conference taught by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. Each attendant had been given an envelope with a cutout letter Y inside to remind us of the importance of asking “Why?”

Asking our characters "Why?" is one of the best ways to get to the core of their identities, dark moment stories, and motivations for their actions and behaviors. Learning their responses enables us to understand how to craft their stories. 

Think about characters from your favorite books and movies. Why do they act in a certain way? Usually, their motivation stems from a specific event in their past, which is what Susie May Warren calls a “dark moment story.” 

Recently, I rewatched Leap Year and The Proposal, even thought I’ve seen them half a dozen times. What can I say? I love Matthew Goode's accent and Ryan Reynolds’ sense of humor. 

In Leap Year, Anna, the heroine, likes to have a plan in place and know where she is going through life.

Why?

While she was growing up, her father was a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy who was always on the lookout for the next big idea. His lack of structure and gainful employment had Anna working after school in order to keep their house, which ended up being repossessed on Christmas Eve. That trauma affected the decisions she made as an adult. 
 
In The Proposal, the heroine Margaret works hard, demands much, and has very little fun.
 
Why?  
 
She'd lost her parents when she was a teenager and had forgotten what it was like to have a family to love. Her work became her purpose in life, so she demanded the same from her staff.
 
As you continue to get to know your characters, keep asking 'why' to learn their story goals and figure out their motivations for wanting them. That will allow you to put believable obstacles in place to keep them from achieving their goals. 
 
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In my current novel, Season of Hope, Jake wants to create a fatigues to farming program. 
 
Why?  
 
Because his best friend, a wounded warrior, lost his hope and took his life. Jake, a former Marine, wants to teach veterans with disabilities how to farm so they can create their own small businesses and have a sense of hope and a purpose for their lives. Additionally, he feels responsible for being the reason his youngest brother is estranged from the family, so he hopes the program will bring his youngest brother back home. 
 
So, before you begin your next book, take the time to ask your characters "why."  This exercise will enable you to:
 
  • get to know them.
  • create strong goals and motivations.
  • build in realistic obstacles.
  • help maintain consistency with their character.
  • help them to change and grow in order to do something at the end they hadn't been able to do at the beginning.

By doing so, you will have crafted compelling characters with a solid story that keeps your reader turning pages. 
 
If you would like to read the first chapter of Season of Hope, click here: Season of Hope preview
 
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Bio: Heart, home, and faith have always been important to Lisa Jordan, so writing stories with those elements come naturally. Represented by Rachelle Gardner, Lisa is a Carol award-winning author for Love Inspired, writing contemporary Christian romances that promise hope and happily ever after. She is the Operations Manager for My Book Therapy. Happily married to her own real-life hero for thirty years, Lisa and her husband have two grown sons. When she isn’t writing, Lisa enjoys family time, kayaking, good books, and creating with words, photos, and fibers, especially with friends. Visit her at lisajordanbooks.com.

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7 comments:

  1. So, so good to have you here at Seriously Write, Lisa. (And boy do I feel like I was at Deep Thinker's Retreat again, indulging in a rich flow of wisdom) That Dark Moment Story is crucial. I appreciate the examples you gave, asking Why? to uncover the motivation behind what the character wants on the surface. While challenging for the writer, the deeper level of character development before plotting makes for a richer story!

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    1. I'm happy to be here, Mary. Seriously Write is one of my favorite writing blogs. Asking why can be a challenge, but in the end, you'll create richer characters. :)

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  2. Great post, Lisa! I love this advice. As an editor, I'm always on the lookout for well-expressed motives and believable actions, (which flow from motives). Character motivations are central to a reader's experience of them, and key to how we write those characters. Thanks for visiting SW today!

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  3. Lisa, as a former preschool/kindergarten teacher...and now Grammy...I love this question. Your application to our characters definitely focuses on the important issues. I'll now be picturing a big Y when plotting. Thank you!

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  4. Hi Lisa, thanks for spending the day on Seriously Write with this. You've given me a new question to ask my characters. I'll have to be asking them why all the time! Thanks for the great post.

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  5. Hi Lisa! Waving to you and congrats on your latest release. Jake sounds like a terrific hero, and I'm headed over to read the first chapter. I didn't realize you were working full-time for MBT, but that makes perfect sense. I'm a new kid on the block here at Seriously Write and hope to see you here often! Blessings.

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