The XYZs of Story Writing – Part Two of Three

Continuing in our series of 3 basic aspects of story writing, we move on to “Y”…

The “Y” of Story Writing

When I think of the letter Y, I also think of the question why. The letter y reminds me to ask a host of questions as I write. Why? How? When? What? — or more importantly — What if? The more questions you ask, the more conflict and tension you will find yourself able to build into your story. And the more conflict there is, the more interesting the story becomes.

Here’s what I mean. Imagine you’re writing a story about someone canoeing down a river into the wilderness where he plans to live for the next 6 months. He has all his gear, his food, his clothing in the canoe in preparation. But up ahead are raging rapids. If he tips, he risks losing or ruining his supplies, and that would be life-threatening.

So you start asking questions. Why wouldn’t he portage around the rapids?

Well, that makes you realize there are bad guys on the steep bank, shooting at him. Now he’s alone, fighting both the wild river and the bad guys while trying to protect both his life and his gear.

Ask more questions. What else could go wrong? What time of year is it?

Ah… it’s winter! He’s going on a winter survival trip. But if he gets wet or ruins his supplies (and doesn’t get killed by bad guys) he’ll freeze!

How will he outwit the bad guys and survive the rapids? Well, I don’t know, but I’ve sure got a lot of conflict going on that will make the story a page-turner.

Also ask questions about your characters. Who is this guy in the canoe? Why does he want to go to the wilderness? How did he arrange this trip? Who likes him? Who doesn’t? What are his personal problems? Did he prepare well enough? What kind of friends does he have? What kind of friend is he?  What did he eat for dinner last night? Who did he eat it with? Does he have a family? If not, why not?

Your story will be richer if you know your character better, and the way to know your character best is to ask him lots and lots of questions.


Do you only have one thread of conflict going on in your story? Go back and start asking questions. Continue to ask questions all throughout.

If you are just beginning to plot a story, start by asking, asking, asking. Go into your characters’ heads and ask them why they do the things they do. Where did they come from? What’s their past? What kind of hurts or burdens do they carry? Why? The more questions you ask about your characters, the more interesting they’ll be, and conflict will follow them.


About Naomi Musch

Naomi Musch is the author of the inspirational novel The Casket Girl, a romantic adventure of the French and Indian War. She and husband Jeff enjoy epic adventures in the northwoods with their five young adults.

Read more about Naomi.

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