Why Now? Believable Plots

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One question that is often overlooked in plotting is “Why Now?”

Let’s say you want your character to decide to complain to the principal about someone bullying them. OK. Great. It’s surely time Emily got some spunk and got Jeremy off her back. But why now?

It must be explained by actions and motivations that go deeper than, “I need this to happen so the next thing can happen in the story.”

External Events Evoke Plot Points

There could be external events that answer the “Why Now?” question.
Perhaps, there’s just been a conference about bullying and Emily realizes that someone cares. Maybe, she just read Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why (This is a link to the audio recording version, which is totally amazing) and is determined not to let that happen to her.

You are looking for an event that is important enough TO THE CHARACTER, that it evokes a change. Doesn’t matter if any other person would think this event is important, it just has to matter to the character. Often, something small will work–it will be the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Look at your story to see if there’s something intrinsic to the setting and character: burning a piece of bacon, getting an A (or F) on an essay, breaking a pair of sunglasses. Don’t think it has to be something good; it just needs to be something significant to the character that answers, “Why now?”

Internal Events Evoke Plot Points

On the other hand, it could just be a slow build of emotions. It’s not that there’s any one event that triggers the change, but the reader must clearly understand this slow build. The accumulation of water drops eventually overflows the cup. The tears spill.

This is trickier, because it’s all internal, can’t happen too fast, and yet, when the emotions trigger the plot action, it must be believable.

Either way, internal or external, plot events don’t just happen. They happen because of something and the reader needs to have this important question answered, “Why now?”

1 Comment
  • Kim Taylor-DiLeva
    October 31, 2012

    I love this!!!! I listened to a webinar by YA author Angela Morrison on Plot, that she did with Writing for Children Live, and she was talking about using “What If” to help move yourself from one thing to the next in plot. I think by adding in why now? to my what if? I’ll really get somewhere in my manuscript. Thank you for sharing this great idea!