Do You Know Why You're Writing This Story

Why Are You Writing This Story?

Do You Know Why You're Writing This Story PinterestPretend you and I are face to face. Pretend I’ve asked you what you’re writing right now, and you’re telling me the title and the plot and maybe a little about the characters. When you’re done, I look you in the eye and ask, “Why are you writing this story?”

What’s your answer?

Probably, you can snap a response right back in the face of my impudence. But if you can’t, or if the answer isn’t one that immediately comes to your tongue, take a step back and ask yourself again, “Why are you writing this story?”

Why Is This Book Worth a Year of Your Life?

In a superb interview in Writer’s Digest (“Masters of Their Craft,” November/December 2010), thriller maestro David Morrell offers solid advice:

When I write a book, I write a letter to myself. I say, “It’s going to take you this amount of time, probably, to write the book—why is this project worth a year of your life?” And there has to be something about the material, the research, the excitement of the research, maybe the way the story is written, that would make me, when I was all done, hopefully fuller and better.

Most of us begin a story because something about it fascinates us. The characters, the setting, the thematic questions, the plot twist at the end.

For me, my interest in any particular story can usually be encapsulated in a single subject:

K.M. Weiland Novels Behold the Dawn Dreamlander Behold the Dawn

In each of these stories, I found these subjects (and the resultant characters and thematic questions that sprang up) fascinating enough to devote years of my life to them. On the other hand, I’ve had many ideas that no doubt could have become interesting stories in their own right, but which lacked the central idea, the passion, the guiding star necessary to inspire me through the ups and downs of roughly three years of storytelling.

Are You Married to Your Book—or Just Infatuated?

Writing (particularly when we’re writing something as lengthy as a novel) is a lot like a marriage. A story idea that catches our attention and gives us butterflies in our stomachs is one thing. A story that harmonizes with our interests, beliefs, and personalities is another. The first is just an infatuation and probably won’t offer the stability to last past the first blast of writer’s block. The latter, however, is the kind of true love that allows us to build a solid commitment, so we can weather those inevitable moments of angst, confusion, and doubt.

Writing isn’t all warm fuzzies and sweet nothings. Like any realistic relationship, it encounters its rough spots. Even the best stories reach moments when their authors are pretty sure they never wants to open the file again.

That’s why it’s so important we choose stories that are worth the struggle. Not all of us will follow Morrell’s example in going to the trouble to actually write ourselves a letter of justification at the beginning of a new story. But don’t ever let yourself get away with beginning a story without knowing why you’re writing it. Figure out what makes this story more worth writing than any other story, and let that reason empower you in every subsequent word you write.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! So why are you writing this story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Your post gave me food for thought. Being one of those people who only have the bare bones of a story when they start, I often only discover why I’m writing after I’m already into the book. I’m so glad you posted this because I had to ask myself just this question now that I’m starting on my next novel. And I dredged up an answer (it didn’t take long, actually, so it must have been lying there in my mind somewhere) – because I want people to fight for what they believe in. And my first novel? Because people can become worthy in a worthless world. Yes, I like this exercise.

  2. At first glance, this may seem like a question that can only be answered by authors who favor outlines and therefore know quite a bit about their stories before beginning it. But, really, this isn’t about in-depth, scientific answers. All it wants is a strong emotional reaction. If we have that, then we’re likely to find the story worth our time, no matter how long it takes.

  3. For a second, actually, I was really worried, because I thought I didn’t have a response.

    Then I realized I thought my first response “because I like it” was too stupid to be the answer. (Thank you inner inner editor.)

    Anyway, when you said that “something about it fascinates you” that was a clearer way of saying exactly how I feel about the story.

  4. My basic answer to that question is that what I’ve written is what I’d like to read. Simplistic maybe, but true.

  5. @Sarah: Few of us enter a story without that strong pull of fascination for some element or another, but it can be helpful to specifically identify what’s fascinating us.

    @Eric: That’s the only path to walk, in my opinion. I like Scott Edelstein’s advice to “imagine the one story, essay, poem, or book that you’d most like to read. Then write it.”

  6. For me, I started writing Rebel because I needed to. I was suffocating in the sterility of my college degrees, and I hadn’t picked up a pen or a paint brush since I switched majors. So I started thinking that maybe I would feel better if I wrote about a girl who felt trapped by the traditional path to success and escaped. And it went from a short story, to a novel I’d never tell anyone about, to a blog and dreams of a book deal.

    Thanks to my return to writing I feel alive and . . . SO happy. The characters are alive for me, it’s better than I could have ever imagined. I love everything about writing my story, it’s what I’ve been searching for.

  7. Congrats! That’s the kind of experience we’re all searching for. That‘s why we write fiction!

  8. That’s an interesting thought. I never write random dribble for the sake of it, but I don’t often have a monumental reason for writing either. I write stories because they are inside me, because I love to write – and read what I’ve written. My characters become so real to me, so I want to write them out and see what happens to them. I’m not a big planner, so I get a lot of excitement from watching the progression of my stories.

  9. Love of the journey is a significant reason in itself. For some of us, it isn’t the story so much as the writing itself that makes it worth the doing.

  10. I write for the same reason I read – to find out how the story ends. 🙂 I may know generally where it’s going, but it’s only in the writing that I discover how my characters get there.

    And that’s really the only reason I write fiction – no real deep esoteric meaning, just my own amusement and entertainment (and that of others when I share). 🙂

  11. Ultimately, I think our “own amusement and entertainment” is at the root of why most of us write. This creative itch we talk about, this compulsive need to write is grounded, in large part, in this very thing.

  12. I like the idea of writing a letter to myself, and challenging myself to answer the why question.

    Thanks!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  13. My answer straight up about my finished screenplay (which now requires my reservoirs of passion for the marketing phase) + the four new screenplay concepts I’m currently developing would be

    “Because this is so much fun and I love my characters!”

    For those times when it all seems like slogging uphill, my answer would be

    “Because I adore the feeling of developing my craft and giving my characters their rightful place in the world.”

    For each of the individual stories, the “Note to Self” sounds like a worthwhile process. I’m going to do one tailor-made for each of my five babies.

  14. @Angela: Yes, I think it would be a handy thing to tack above the computer to remind us of our reasons when the going gets tough!

    @fearofwriting: Ultimately, I think the reasons behind our writing are universal. But we do each have our particular reasons for choosing specific story ideas.

  15. I write for many of the reasons people mentioned – entertainment, pure enjoyment etc. But I also write to improve, knowing with each page, paragraph, sentence I’m bettering my craft and increasing my ability to render what’s in my head onto the page. Thoughtful post!

  16. Isn’t that a great feeling? I love looking back at old stories and seeing how much I’ve grown.

  17. I tried to write a novel when I was in sixth grade. Creating the story and writing it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Although it ended unfinished, it still draws me. So why I still try to write it?

    It is because the characters have been with me for so long that they are real. It is because I love them and want to see what they do. And its because, by now, they are some of the people closest to my heart and realising them is the least I can do.

  18. There’s something about those early stories. They have a pull that even the later (perhaps better) story ideas can’t quite match. It’s a sad day when we realize we’ve finally finished them and have to move on.

  19. I needed to start writing. That was the primary reason. I like the plot. Of course,I like the twist in the middle of the story.

  20. Loving your story is the primary consideration in writing it. Compulsion to get it out of your head and onto paper is also an important factor.

  21. Here’s my reason for my current novel (which I have been working on for a few years already): I am writing this story because I need healing and understanding for the betrayals, trauma, and struggles I have had in my life. I need to give hope to my character, because it gives me hope that I can move forward, too. I can’t leave this story unfinished. It’s gotten tough, but I need to finish it. This is a great article K.M. Weiland! So insightful and just what I needed to hear right now 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writing is fantastic catharsis. I’m always saying I never deliberately write about things in my life, and yet it’s crazy how often I end up recognizing the themes from my life “accidentally” appearing in my stories.

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