Writers Need to Start with Why

When my husband started working as a general manager of a hotel that had recently been bought by new owners, he dedicated a good portion of his “not-working” time to understanding how to help people unite. It didn’t take long until he came across Simon Sinek – first TED talks, then supporting YouTube videos and daily email hints, etc. Soon he was listening to the audiobook Start With Why. Many of our subsequent conversations fell along the lines of why it’s important to start with asking why.

When I started a new job, I found myself going back time and again to those conversations and listening to the audiobook myself, which is summed up well by this graphic:

golden circle

Though these conversations about why began outside my writing life, as tends to be the case more and more, things that are pertinent to one aspect of my life trickle into my writing life. In studying Story Genius by Lisa Cron, I came across the following:

“While we might know what is happening, we have no idea why it matters or what the point is. Because the point doesn’t stem from the events; rather, it stems from the struggle they trigger within the protagonist as she tries to figure out what the heck to do about the problem she’s facing. That invisible, internal struggle . . . not only connects the novel’s surface events to the protagonist’s internal progress, giving those events meaning, but it’s also what ultimately lets you know what those surface events will be (read: the plot).”

Thinking about this led me to reflect on one of my favorite books, Me Before You. 

writers need to start with why

In Me Before You, Jojo Moyes allowed the reader to see why Louisa needs a job, to see why she stays when she has every reason to leave. But through Louisa’s eyes, we also get to see why Will hates her, why he then tolerates her, and then why he wants to be better with and because of her. We see his struggle with being quadriplegic, with knowing that the good days won’t stay good days. As we come to learn about Louisa’s why & we know about Will’s why.

Have you thought about your own life and writing? For the latter, here are a few tips to really hone in on a character’s why:

  • What is the character’s purpose?
  • What is the character’s cause?
  • What is the character’s belief?
  • Why should the reader care about this character?

What techniques have you used to discover and convey your character’s why? 

profileTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

One thought on “Writers Need to Start with Why

  1. Tasha: This explains SO MUCH — everything from my own struggles with a protagonist who doesn’t share to a blog post that blew up badly — so, thank you for an immediate and fantastic jolt to the consciousness even before the first cup of coffee!


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