Friday, December 30, 2011

From the Archive: Wherein my 3 year-old teaches me about writing

Originally posted in March 2011.

My three year-old is currently going through the "why" stage.  Moms will know this as the stage where alcohol becomes an essential part of mommy's nightly destress routine.

Basically every  thing he watches, every activity we engage in, every moment of his day, he wants to know more about.

"Why did Darth Vader cut off Luke's hand?"
"Why does Sydney need a nap?"
"Why is mommy crying?"
"Why did Wall-E pick up all the trash?"

You get the idea.  He follows me from room to room narrating my occupations and asking for my motivations.  And then the other day it hit me, this is a good lesson for writers.

When I tell him "I don't know."  He asks why.  He restates the original question.  I don't know is not an acceptable response.  If I don't know, I better figure it the hell out before he asks my ear right off.

How many times have you watched the deleted scenes on the DVD you rented?  You know why those scenes get cut, because they don't offer anything new or they don't give us compelling information.  They don't give us any why.  They don't offer us any new insight or they slow down the story without adding to it.

Does your book have scenes like this?  Lots of dialogue with no real importance.  If you ask yourself why it's there.  Do you know?  On the other hand, when your character does something, feels something, says something - do you know the motivation behind it?  Every line of your manuscript has to have a purpose, so that the only why your reader is left with is one of breathless anticipation for your perfectly executed final reveal.

In other news, I think my son is going to be an actor.  I'm going to start teaching him to ask "What's my motivation?" Instead of why.


  1. I usually end up thinking the deleted or alternate scenes are superior to the ones left in the film. Director's cut films are generally superior to the cut versions, too, and they leave fewer holes in the storyline.

  2. What's my motivation? I love that.

    I knew a mom with twin girls that taught them to say, "Behold!" instead of "Mom, LOOK!"


    Your advice here is spot on. Sometimes, I watch deleted/alternative scenes and I'm excited and happy for them. Other times, I'm left with a "Oh, okay." feeling.

    Same goes for writing. I've seen authors post deleted/alternative POVs and sometimes they're awesome and fun and, other times, it's "meh, that was amusing."

    But this is advice I will definitely take to heart as I start editing this beast of a manuscript.

  3. Petra @ Safari PoetDecember 30, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    "Why" was my favourite word as a kid. And if I asked something, I'd keep asking why until I got an answer I didn't really understand because that to me sounded like the right answer. Especially when it came to anything technological.

  4. My teens are now the opposite of the "why" phase. They tell me the why because I am now dumb and they are wise. Love the deleted scene analogy. We just watched the deleted scenes from Bridesmaids. There were three cut versions of one scene and it never made it into the movie in any way, shape, or form. Good exercise to analyze why.