Friday, May 7, 2021

The 'why' game


Solve prompts for short stories, work out mini-plots for your chapters, avoid (stupid) mistakes, and expand your chapters. All that by simply applying the 'why' game, using just five (5) simple words, that's all it takes...

The 'why' game

This was originally part of the 'Writing to a prompt part 2' entry, but I think it's too important, and it deserves its own post.

Yes. It's that important.

The 'why' game goes both ways. If helps you to develop a story, and it helps to find problems in that story.

From prompt to plot

'Who', 'why', 'what', 'when'. (Okay, there's a fifth one 'where', which also counts.)

Break down the plot into individual sentences, or even words, then start asking the applicable 'w' words. If there's a name, then who is that person? If there's an action and no reason, then ask yourself why did it happen, and / or what motivated the person?

Of course, some questions can't be answered, or don't need answers.

Breaking down the prompt, and answering these questions results in a 'mini plot'. And then, you're halfway there.

Check your writing

'Who', 'why', 'what', 'when', and 'where' have two relatives 'can know' and 'can do'.

When writing is over it's a good idea to revise your text. Check the spelling, the wording, the logic. Use the same 'w' words. When is this part happening? Who is the person doing it? Why is he doing it? What is he doing? And any variations thereof. Like where, what, etcetera.

However, there's one more aspect to have a look at. It's 'can'. Can it happen? Can the character do it? Does the character have the knowledge? Does the reader have the knowledge?

Too many times a story fails, because characters know things they can't know, or some prime motivations are left out, or certain rules (magic, science, setting) are broken.

On the opposite side we have over-exposition / explanation, where the writer keeps hammering certain elements, again and again, as if he / she is about to forget those him / herself. Those writers should ask themselves: why explain yet again?

Write bridges

If you have written your story 'out of order', or if you need to build a 'bridge' from one scene to the next, you can use this same approach.

Write down the starting point, and the ending point. Then try to figure out what needs to happen to get from A to B. What would be the requirements? The end result? Which characters are required? How will it impact the rest of the story?

Break the problem down into it's smallest pieces, and don't be afraid to change the questions or the answers as many times as needed. After an hour or so you should have a framework for that bridge, and be able to turn it into a chapter that connects one part of your story to the next.

Turn a prompt into a plot

See above...

Expand scenes

What if the chapter or the scene is too short? Then examine all participants, their situation, motivation, environment. Start asking 'why' etc. and keep drilling until you find something interesting you can use in the chapter and expand upon.

Play the 'why' game. Always play the 'why' game...

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