I discovered, at six years old, that words and books were magic. I read a story and became a different person in a world and experience new to me. I saw and felt the story like a movie in my body. I became the characters. Total magic.
That first magic of reading stayed with me, and out of it grew a second magic, writing. I love the magic of writing, how it leads me to discovery and understanding. The magic was busy this week as I worked on the backstory of my book, and something new came home to me about creating the truest story I can.
Here is what I realized.
As I write, I ask myself questions about the story being created. I do this each time I write, but what I came to this week is beyond asking questions. It is about asking the right question.
I write intuitively, so while I always ask who, where, what, how, and when, I don’t need to ask why. In writing intuitively, the why is already present for me. It drives the initial idea, the writing, and the story, even though I do not consciously articulate it to myself.
The problem with not consciously asking why is that the answer remains silent. The information stays in my unconscious. I might get close to expressing it, but much of the information is running underneath the surface of the words.
I know, as a reader, I don’t need why spelled out for me all the time. I see it in the experiences, beliefs, needs, and wants of the characters. The choices they make come out of that, and the story shows this to me.
As a writer, I’ve discovered I can’t leave the why sitting in my intuition. I need to consciously lay it out for myself as part of the backstory. My readers may not need it spelled out, but I do. Specifically answering why gives me knowledge that informs my writing, and provides me clues as to what needs to be written into the story. Once I’ve done the writing, this knowledge forms a base to measure against as I review what I have written.
Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius has walked me into this deeper understanding of my story-creating process. I am working my way through the questions she asks, forming the backstory so I have a clear picture of my protagonist when the story opens. All of who this character is, is her why. All of who she is informs and drives the choices she makes as the story progresses. I know what is pushing her, even when she doesn’t, and the knowledge helps me shape how I show and tell, shapes the words I choose, shapes what I choose to both offer and hold back from the reader.
I will continue to write intuitively but now, after the first draft is on the page, I will go back and consciously, deliberately ask myself the question that needs asking—why.
Thank you, Lisa, for showing me how to ask the right question.
In this post,
Book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016. http://wiredforstory.com/