The Why Technique

This could also be called the why-what-how technique. With this technique, you go through your story and ask why? of every single line. Now it won't make sense in some cases, so you just move on to the next line. Fiction is about finding answers, not raising questions. So, we're asking why in order to find answers. And we ask why of things that we would never question in normal society. So, if someone said, "Fred's depressed," we could ask, "What's wrong?" But if they then said, "His mother died," we wouldn't say, "Why does that depress him?" Not in reality, but in fiction we would ask—always.

In fiction, we're looking for the root cause, the deepest level of the experience, the most personal and specific reasons. We take nothing at face value. Why does his mother's death depress him? How is he experiencing it? How is it affecting him? What about her death, exactly, depresses him? If we're writing about grief, we want to get to the nature, the essence, of grief. What is it about grief that's painful, that's meaningful?

With Fred and his mother, he might be depressed because he loved her so much and will miss seeing her, miss talking to her, miss getting her advice and guidance. He might be frightened that he cannot survive without her guidance. Or he could be depressed because she disinherited him, leaving everything to the church two years ago when he was arrested for possession of cocaine and then she was just getting ready to leave everything to him again, but had not yet changed the will. He could be depressed because he'd failed to give her her medication and it killed her. Or maybe he was going to murder her and make it look like his rotten older brother did it, and now he has to find another way to destroy his brother.

And the depression might only be the visible reaction. He could be feeling guilt, anger, fear, sadness, and relief all at the same time. By running through your story and asking questions of every line and answering them, you will be creating a deeper, more dramatic story and a more complex set of characters.

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