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Tip Tuesday #44

I hope everyone had a fabulous 4th. I sure did, but the extended weekend has me completely thrown off. Today (it's Tuesdays right?!), I have another great tip from Deren of The Laws of Making. Please give his blog a visit!

When you come to a question as you write, don't settle for the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, get in touch with your inner obnoxious child and ask yourself, "Why?" after you answer your question at least five times. I actually learned about this technique while tracing the root cause of failures in engineered systems. In that context, studies showed that asking why five times really did get to the original failure. The people that you write about are likely more complicated than an engineered system, so asking why five times won't get you to the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but it's a great way to get beyond the superficialities to the deeper matters that will make your story come alive.

If you'd like to know a bit more, I recently posted a note about the five whys on my blog.

Deren, this is one of those simple but extremely helpful tips. Asking "why" again and again is one of the best ways to avoid going in a direction that is expected or cliche. Thanks for another great tip!


  1. Such a great tip. I never thought to do this, I just sort of roll with whatever comes to my head, but I am going to try this right now. Thanks!

  2. That's a great idea. I never thought to do it either. It might take your story in whole different and more interesting paths. Thanks.

  3. As always, awesome tip! I agree with Natalie that a whole new direction could be taken if you're willing to dig a little deeper.

    Thanks so much :)

  4. This tip of asking why five times is one that is new to me, and it sounds brilliant.

  5. It's interesting everyone seems to go with what first comes to mind! I guess that makes sense when you're in the zone, but I think asking why is especially important in revision and/or when you get stuck. Hope you all find some new paths!

  6. See, I'm not sure if I dig deep enough or not. Hmm... Perhaps we also could use this as a test?

    Taylor likes Regan, even though he's being a jerk to her.

    1) Why?

    Well, he's really attractive. That's one thing. But also, he seems to like her, or at least have mixed feelings towards her.

    2) Why does he have mixed feelings?

    Well, he decided he'd hate her before he met her. When he met her, he didn't know who she was, and so found he liked her. He can't seem to get over that.

    3) So why does he hate her?

    Because she caused his sister's death. His sister was recruiting her when she was killed, presumably by dark magic users wanting to kidnap Taylor, a rare half-breed known as a witch.

    4) Why does he blame her for that?
    Several reasons. Lack of someone else to blame and an inability to cope. Deflected self-judgement that it was his fault.

    5) Why does he think it's his fault?
    Because he wasn't planning on joining the school. Because he thought she'd made the wrong decision by rejecting her family. That's why he ultimately decided to join the school.

    Hey, I never really thought of it that way! Guess it works!!

  7. Woot! Thanks for giving a test-run/example Kyle. You might also try answering each question 5 times to see what you like best. It takes awhile but it might help you dig even deeper.

  8. Oooo, I agree with this tip! It always helps me plan my WiPs when I ask why, why, why!

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Great tip. I can see how it would work to give a character more depth. (Hugs)Indigo

  10. That is a great tip! I have never used it before. I will have to incorporate it into my writing system. =)

  11. shoot i was stopping at three why's! guess my inner child isn't obnoxious enough to be deep! i'll have to work harder at it!

  12. Great tip as usual! :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  13. That's great advice. I'll have to give it a try.