Let us contemplate the question of toddlers and fools, of Socrates and writers. The question I have asked a thousand times in pursuit of a thousand mysteries.
“Why are you…?” “Why don’t I…?” “Why must…?” “Why should we…?” “Why not…?”
Just the right amount of why
My mother would answer many of my “why” questions with the infuriating “Because I said so.”
Writers crafting a world for readers to inhabit need a much better answer for the many questions that might arise in the audience’s mind as they read. “Why did she abandon her sister at the side of the road?” “Why would he not know his mother was in the hospital?” “Why would he give up his job and follow his girlfriend to India?” Because I said so doesn’t cut it.
As I continue revising The Walking Ladies (working title only!) based on the wonderful feedback of my beta readers and critique groups (thank you!), I dig deeper into my characters in search of satisfying answers that make sense. But of course I don’t want to reveal everything at once—that would ruin the fun. I want the answers to unfold. I want readers to have a comfortable level of questions at all moments. Not so many that they are confused, but not so few that they are bored. The balance is delicate. Different readers have different tastes. It’s tricky to pull off, and it’s one of the most important parts of the editing process.
Will I get the balance right? I’m sure readers will let me know.
“Why do I write?”
Asking all these whys has led me back to a question I’ve visited and revisited many times over the years: Why (given the almost daily agonies) do I write at all? (you can see my answer from 2011 and some other thoughts from past years). Keep in mind that every writer has their own answer to this question—all equally valid.
My current answer: I write to fulfill my fascination with the human psyche, with the why of other people’s minds. To understand motivation and desire, what keeps us going and what holds us back. I write to translate what’s in my mind to a language you can hear and understand, to crumble the barriers between us and them, me and you.
And, of course, so readers can have the thrill of asking and answering questions of their own.
What is your tolerance level for questions as a reader? Do mind being in suspense or do you enjoy puzzling things out as you go? How do you feel if the author doesn’t wrap everything up at the end? Comment below to let me know.
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