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Guest Post: KNOW YOUR WHYS by Liza Wiemer

I'm so thrilled to have author Liza Wiemer visit at gilagreenwrites. With all of the difficulties of the current pandemic, it has given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful writers from all over the world as more people reach out than ever before. Today Liza shares a valuable tip for writers at any stage of manuscript development.


Liza Wiemer is an award-winning educator with over twenty years of teaching experience. Her second young adult novel is titled, The Assignment  (Delacorte Press, 2020.) The Assignment will be published in Russia, Poland, Italy, and South Korea. Hello?, her debut contemporary YA novel, was named a Goodreads Best Young Adult Novel of the Month. In addition, Liza has had two adult nonfiction books published and several short stories included in the New York Times bestselling Small Miracles series. She has had articles published in various newspapers and magazines. A graduate of UW-Madison, Liza is the mother of two married sons and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband.

Welcome, Liza!

Know Your Whys

Without a doubt, asking who, what, where, when, how are critical to every novel. However, when it comes to your writing, "Why?" is the most important question to ask.

Asking and answering "why?" brings layers to the story. It helps us dig deeper into our characters' motivations and perspectives. It shows how the past impacts the present. It helps us understand a character's choices, actions, motivations. It brings meaning to a physical object.

"Why" allows us to cut a beloved sentence or scene. It leads to those "ah-ha!" moments, the surprising moments when you discover something new, unusual, or shocking about your character. In turn, you now have the perfect environment to create a moment that's completely unexpected.

Recently, a writer friend had me read part of her manuscript. She wrote, "If I leave now, I'll be home by three o'clock."

This sentence stood out because I didn't understand why it was there. What purpose does it serve? Why is getting home by three o'clock important to the story? (She never answered that within her novel.) When I asked her, she said it really didn't have any importance. She cut it! Do you have sentences like that?

MIT professor and award-winning author, Laura Harrington, said that every word you write in your novel must have muscle. If a scene serves several purposes, even better. Always pay attention to your whys?!

Me Before You author Jojo Moyes once told me that she never regretted anything she cut, only the things she didn't cut. Think about it: Why is this scene important?

To help you with your writing, I've created a WHY list of questions.

Here are some questions to ask during the writing process:

  • Why is this relevant to the novel?
  • Why do I want to put a flashback here?
  • Why am I using this specific word to describe this object, person, environment?
  • Why would the character do this—or not do it?
  • Why should he do a specific act, even though it's out of character?
  • Why am you including or not including the five senses?
  • Why write this scene this way?
  • Why are you not delving deeper into the characters' motives?
  • Why start or end the chapter or this novel this way?
  • Why is your character keeping a secret? Lying? Cheating? Compulsive? Obnoxious? A bully? A great listener?
  • Why not hold back and reveal this surprise or secret later?
  • Why write what's expected? Unexpected?
  • Why did you fall into the trap of clichés?
  • Why kill these characters? Give them flaws? Destroy them emotionally? Build them up? Betray them? Have them fall in love? Abstain from sex? Seek intimacy?
  • Why do you want your readers to love a character? Sympathize with him? Miss him? Care?
  • Why place an object in a character's hand? Environment?
  • Why take your character on an unexpected journey?
  • Why is this secondary character relevant to your story?
  • Why is this character less developed than others?
  • Why would my characters be unable to fulfill their goals?
  • Why are they motivated to achieve their goals?
  • Why does this scene feel flat?
  • Why are you stuck? Or even better, why is my character stuck?
  • Why would your character scream, cry, laugh, dance, sing, runaway, especially at this moment?
  • Why would your character hide his emotions?
  • Why would my character behave one way at school and another way at home?
  • Why would your character treat one friend one way and another friend differently?
  • Why would a character lash out?
  • Why would a character have nightmares?
  • Why would a character bend the rules?
  • Why would a character be depressed, happy, intolerant, brutal, kind, hateful, silly, obnoxious, playful, serious?
  • Why would a character refuse to use her talents?
  • Why would your character find an object?
  • Why would your character search out an answer?
  • Why would your character put herself in danger?
  • Why would your character take on a dare or challenge?
  • Why would a character defy a parent, spouse? Or obey?
  • Why would a character steal?
  • Why would your character be fluent in different language other than English?
  • Why would your character be afraid to bring someone to her house?

Good luck, Liza

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