Episode 5: Finding the Why of Your Story

A new podcast for writers

Sandra O'Donnell, Ph.D.

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Whether you are writing literary fiction or historical fiction, police procedurals or YA, before readers will fully invest in your story — to get them past those crucial first fifteen pages — you need to show the reader WHY. This week, we discuss how you find the WHY of your story and how the why becomes the basis for your inciting incident. Jump over Episode 5: Finding the Why of Your Story on the Your First Fifteen Pages podcast to join the conversation.

To write anything — a story, a report, or a book — you have to know why you are writing it. As a novelist, you have to hone in on the event that brings the story into being and why your reader should care. That why is the question at the heart of every novel.

The why is one of the first things readers look for when we pick up a book. We look for the why in those first pages and generally find it in the inciting incident of the story. Without an inciting incident, agents, editors, and readers will simply stop reading.

There are a million other reasons why we read fiction. We want to know what it is like to be a spy, fight for someone’s freedom, discover a treasure, change identities, fail and finally succeed, find true love, come back to life…the list goes on and on.

The WHY of The Husband’s Secret

For many writers, the why of a story comes from a place of natural curiosity. In Episode 1, we talked about where story ideas come from. And we talked about how Liane Moriarty found the idea for The Husband’s Secret. Before Liane Moriarty wrote The Husband’s Secret, she stumbled upon an article about deathbed confessions ranging from a man who faked a picture of the Loch Ness monster to a famous songwriter who plagiarized a hit song and lied about it for years.

But the confession that “got me thinking” Moriarty writes, was the man who, after having a stroke, confessed to murdering his neighbor. The man didn’t die, but the secret he almost carried to the grave was out. That article planted the seed of an idea her novel The Husband’s Secret, which is about “a deathbed confession, except he’s not dead. Years later, after his wife finds the letter, she faces an interesting ethical dilemma.”

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Sandra O'Donnell, Ph.D.

Writing about life, death and everything In between. Reader of history, memoirs, and the stars. Looking for answers to life’s deeper questions.