Writing Musts: Getting Wise to the Whys

Questions about why writers write are one of those things that will never go away. Some do have stated reasons that they’re aware of, while others have a draw to the medium that is inexplicable to them.

There may even be a handful that find it incredulous that someone could even ask the question, because there is an innate desire to write, and they see it like asking why somebody sleeps, hopes or loves. They might find a reason if they analyse their desires, but in the end it comes to same result:

There is a story inside them that needs to get out. There are lives they’ve seen that need to be made real, even if their reality is fictional.

The overall experience of writing may not have a clear why for everybody, but writers are often drawn to particular genres. They may have their individual stories that are at once personal to them, and the type they’re drawn to. Some are drawn to Young Adult fiction both in their love of YA, and in their need to tell a YA story. Others might prefer the supernatural, fantasy, science fiction, lit, historical fiction, crime, mystery, horror, and it really does go on into ones that probably couldn’t be catalogued into anything other than the all-encompassing fiction label. Each has a strong bearing on the type of story being told, and the writer often sees the development of their story predicated on the genre of their prospective story. Their initial story seed transforms and confirms the way that the story develops, because with all of their individual prejudices and beliefs about a genre, they prescribe certain things to each.

Some writers hold to Monomyth with tenacity, believing that every story that can or should be told can be reduced to The Hero’s Journey, or that all fantasy stories should do so, or all YA. I’m not one of those people and don’t agree that it’s an unalterable precept of good writing that you must follow it like a recipe. It is a fantastic concept and insightful for what myths, legends and stories it’s able to link and show a common experience for. It’s also brilliant because it unifies the human experience, bringing stories across multiple generations, cultures and ages together and pointing out that we’re all human. It’s just not the only way to write, nor the only story worth telling and retelling

Why we write on the whole may not be so easily discerned, but perhaps a better question is “Why do you write the stories that you do?” What is it about those particular elements or genre that makes it worthwhile to you?

I love the what-ifs. I love the philosophical questions that are raised about the human condition, about the struggle between morality and justice, pessimism vs optimism, and characters tiptoeing across the hazy line between right and wrong. I see those as areas that go hand-in-hand with science fiction and fantasy, without so much focus on the futuristic or magical in terms of key elements. Sure, the alternate worlds of these stories do satisfy those elements. There are spaceships and aliens and robots and computers. There are armies and magicians and monsters and castles. Those are just the palette, and a means to tell a series of events that explore more than the just the logline.

The issues being explored don’t have to happen in those genres. A mystery or horror story could equally satisfy questions about where the too-far line is between a hero and a villain. A YA story could provide a take on a potential social structure different to our own. For me though, the link between the issues that could be explored, and my two preferred genres is solid. I find it easier to put characters into a terrible position with them, so that they have no simple choices, no clear way forward. A western or war story could also have a character tested on the divide between their values and their survival, but it’s my other genres that I want that for.

While some writers want to explore morality, others have stories about relationships, family, justice, acceptance, self-acceptance, greed, and well, lots more. They all have their own genres that they see as ideally positioned for telling those stories, and that forms a huge part of the personal voice and style that lends authenticity to a piece of writing. The great thing about writing is that all of these are right, and they can all work. At the heart of each story, even if it seems like it’s just a big adventure, these underlying questions or issues might be there.

None of these need to be the reason why you’re writing, or why you write that particular story. Some writers just want to tell a good yarn, and that’s bound to be a goal no matter what else you want to put in. Look at what you’re writing about, the lives of the characters and what they do – what is it about your characters that have made them so worth your words? Why is it you’re writing what your writing, and barring the plot, what makes it so damn special? How much of your reasons for this story inform the characters and world?

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