Tuesday, May 17, 2022



Of all the “W”s of a story, (Who/Where/What/When/Why) there’s another WHY that may be the most important. Another blogger, Jennie Nash, addressed it succinctly here.


It’s the why you must tell this story.


I see this more and more with critique exchanges, of which I have done too many to count, and maybe most of all for picture book manuscripts. I’ve read nicely constructed stories based on tried and true formulas that are spelled out in writing craft books and repeated in writerly conventions or blogs. “This is how you should do it,” is their essential message, which the writer then followed to a T.


Many use so-called mentor texts. Every bit of how-to advice is incorporated.


What’s missing, sorely utterly absent, is the passion for the story.


These painted by the numbers creations remind me of birds without wings. Nice colors, pleasant faces, point-on beaks.

But they don’t fly.

It’s far easier to comb the feathers of inspired stories that, even in an un-polished state, already soar.

I’ve seen feedback that try to blow air beneath these flightless stories by suggesting a stronger action, more tension, tighter phrasing, etc. What the person giving feedback is not saying (because we try to be polite and kind) is that the passion is missing.


If you ask: “Why did you write this story?” A likely answer is a version of “I read publishers/agents are looking for such.” Or, “my kids liked that other story so I used it as a mentor text.”

Better: “Why were you burning to write this story?”


Putting it this way, I find that with wingless stories there’s rarely an answer.


For myself,  I start with that WHY. Why must I write it?

Then it’s a GO.


Joy Moore said...

Wonderful but important things to remember.

Vijaya said...

Mirka, it's the most important thing to know while writing and I loved your analogy of the wingless bird.

Barbara Etlin said...

"Why were you burning to write this story?"

You're talking about inspiration. When I have that flash of inspiration I instantly know it. But, for me, it's rarer than a dodo sighting. To quote or paraphrase Margaret Atwood, if I waited for inspiration, I'd never write anything.

Evelyn said...

Excellent advice! That's why I'm not writing any stories right now. None are tugging at my heart

Mirka Breen said...

I was thinking not so much of inspiration, Barbara, as in a sense of being captured/possessed (almost) by the characters and what happens to them. These are the stories that fly. The others, thousands of them published, are the too-many "meh" books we have all read and then wondered why we finished them.

Katie L. Carroll said...

Such an important question when writing a story. I always need to have the passion of the why when writing.

MirkaK said...

I agree with you, Mirka. Passion needs to compel the writing. Even when I was writing articles for magazines and journals, my curiosity, my interest in learning more about the person and what s/he was doing, the family background, the development of a particular therapy process, any transformations, etc., spurred me on. When you don't care, it's hard to put any verve into what you're writing. I can imagine that same curiosity about fictional characters compelling a story along: where did this character come from, what's driving her/him, what's going to happen in her/his life, and so on? If you have that kind of curiosity when reading, then certainly it makes sense for it to be there when writing.

Sue said...

Good point!