Saturday, October 7, 2023

Superhero Tools for Writers: Learning to Ask Why Can Empower Your Writing

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

Spider Man has his web shooter. Wonder Woman has her bracelets. And Batman, well, he has a bat cave full of cool gadgets and stuff, including the bat mobile.

What would superheroes be without their tools?

Last month, we looked at How Writers are Like Superheroes. Through what we write, we can help our readers see the world and others in a whole new light.

This time I want to look at one of the super tools all writers have in their toolboxes. Or on their bat belts if you like.

The tool we’ll look at is one of the most powerful and useful tools we use. We use it when we start a story and when we seek to publish or send the story out to a reader. It’s effective with nonfiction and fiction, and in stories from flash fiction to multi-book series.

It’s the question we should constantly ask about our writing. Why?

Three Areas Where Writers Should Ask Why

1. The Readers

We are all flooded with stories or information, shouting to fill the few hours we have each day. According to the First Site Guide website, the internet has over 600 million blogs with over 6 million blog posts being published each day. I guess I should be glad my inbox isn’t overflowing even worse.

There are also over 4 million new books published annually.

How can I expect to get my story noticed in such a crowd? One of the most important ways is to identify what makes your story different. Why should a reader choose your story?

For nonfiction, that means what new information are you sharing? Or what new application are you giving it? Just because someone has already written on the topic, and with so many books, there is bound to already be a book, a blog, or a magazine covering it. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for one more. Yours.

Just be able to show the readers that your book meets their needs.

This is also true in fiction. Some people believe that there are only seven or nine different stories in existence. Undoubtedly, they have already all been covered many times. Yet millions of new books and short stories come out each year to raving fans waiting to gobble them all up.


By giving a story a new setting, or populating it with original characters, revitalizes the story and makes it new again. We often see this done by writers repurposing a story from one of our master writers. Shakespeare. Agatha Christie. By moving a Christie’s story from merry ole England to California or Mississippi, a whole new generation can see them.

2. The Story or Takeaway

We have all tried to read a book that either the plot or the actions of the characters left you scratching your head. You may like the setting, or the characters, but their actions or responses didn’t make sense.

It’s frustrating to have a reader story tell you they didn’t finish reading your story. Frequently, learning where they quit reading will show you where a problem exists in your story. 

This can be where the writer’s pen seems to run out of ink. We can’t push the story any farther because we don’t know where the story is going. 

We may be following our outline and hitting all the points, but we have failed to establish the logic in the direction we are taking the story. So we hit a wall.

The same can happen in nonfiction. Why was it important that a committee made their decision? Or what can we learn from Israel’s stop by the Jordan River and Moses’s speech to the people? Why is it still important several millennials later and in our culture?

Answering the question why will keep your reader involved in your story.

3. The Characters

I do most of my writing as a pantser. I gather some characters, find an intriguing location, and head off to a climax that I have just a foggy idea about. The road becomes clearer as we travel along it. 

And the why is a large part of our roadmap. By focusing on the whys of the characters, I know my reader can follow us without getting yanked out of the story by a character who acts, well, out of character.

Many stories involve a man or woman traveling somewhere, maybe to a new town. I picture a man standing by the road with a jacket over his shoulder. And we read about the cars that buzz by him, covering him with dust. And how the sun keeps beating down on him and his fear of snakes.

But we really don’t get into the story—care for the character—until we learn why he’s making this trip. And without their motivation, we don’t have a plot, we just have a scene or sketch. 

It’s the character’s motivation that makes the reader pull for them and care about their outcome.

And it’s their motivation that helps the writer know where to take the story.

Looking at the tools and gadgets that all superhero writers have in their bags, we can compare asking why to a compass. It gives the story and characters direction. And if used properly, it keeps the writer from getting lost.

Because would any of us want to see Superman asking for directions?


Tim Suddeth is a stay-at-home dad and butler for his wonderful, adult son with autism. He has written numerous blogs posts, short stories, and three novels waiting for publication. He is a frequent attendee at writers conferences, including the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and a member of Word Weavers and ACFW. He lives near Greenville, SC where he shares a house with a bossy Shorky and three too-curious Persians. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter, as well as at and

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