The WHY of Your Story

by: A. Lee Martinez. DFWWW Member since 1995

A. Lee MartinezThe first thing you should ask yourself is why?

Writing isn’t as simple as putting down words on paper. If it was, everyone would be doing it, and at times, it feels like everyone thinks they can. If we’re talking about sitting in front of a keyboard and typing until you have a few pages, then, yes, everyone can do it. There’s a difference between doing it and doing it well.

Asking why is that difference.

Let’s stick with fiction for the moment. Much of this applies to non-fiction as well, but it’s easier to focus on one right now. Fiction is, generally, a series of scenes that string together to form an overarching story. All basic stuff, you might think, but you would be wrong.

The Why (capital W from this point on) is Why this scene must exist in the first place. Your initial answer will probably be wrong. You will no doubt think of story points and character motivations and getting the plot moving to its next stage. That’s important stuff, but it is NOT your Why.

Gil's All FrightThe Why is all about what we’ll call emotional intention. I should be feeling something in your scene, and that feeling should be what you want me to feel. New writers (and even experienced writers) can be so invested in moving the pieces on the board and pushing the plot forward that they forget that writing fiction isn’t about conveying mere facts.

“John woke up in the morning. He went to the store. He bought some eggs. He came home and had breakfast.”

That’s a boring story. Not just because it’s a boring story but because there’s no emotional weight to it. Even if we change it up by adding a zombie apocalypse or messy divorce, it still doesn’t have any intention.

“John dragged himself out of bed. He trudged to the store and bought some damned eggs. He cooked them alone, in his kitchen, thinking about her.”

The Why here is obvious. John is having a bad day. He’s tired. He’s barely motivated. And I, as the reader, know that this isn’t a happy scene or funny or exciting. It’s sad. I may not know the details, but the weight is there. The intention isn’t screaming, but it is palpable.Helen and Troys

“John jumped out of bed. He ran to the store, treated himself in some extra large eggs. Singing their song, he cooked the eggs in his kitchen, thinking about her.”

The Why is completely different here. It’s full of positivity and energy. John is still alone. We still don’t know anything about Her, but we don’t need to. We sense the emotional weight of this scene just by how we choose to tell it.

Nobody cares about the details. Characters are not playing pieces on a board, and stories are not a series of checklists. They are about emotional intention, and, yes, even ambiguity is a perfectly acceptable goal for a scene if done on purpose.

So don’t write what happened. Write Why it happened, and that Why should almost never be because John ran out of eggs.


I attend the DFW Writers Conference to mainly help like so many others. I've worked the pitch session for some years. I tell bad jokes to the overly nervous writers waiting to pitch their works to agents and editors. And I usually catch a class or two. I didn’t attend to pitch anything, just hang with friends and maybe talk to an agent or two about the industry if the opportunity presented itself.

Shilo HarrisThen at the mixer I caught a glimpse of 

Shilo Harris, a war veteran who had been burned over thirty-five percent of his body, walking towards me. I'd seen his picture on the website. Since I've led such a sheltered life in regards to traumatic injuries, and being shy by nature, I was nervous. How should I act? What would I say? What should I talk about, and more importantly, what shouldn't I talk about?

As he got close to the table where I stood, I nodded and said a timid hello. He stepped up and introduced himself with a firm handshake. The joy of being alive filled his voice and shone from his face as we talked for over an hour about his service, family, fishing, how he's helping vets. Nothing seemed off-limits. He made me feel like we'd been friends for decades.

The next day as I watched him saying goodbyes at the conference, it was obvious I wasn't the only person he made feel like a friend.

It's amazing how he's overcome such tragedy, such severe injuries. How he's so optimistic, so happy, so exuberant. How he's helping others, especially vets.

Back at the hotel, as I waited for friends, someone poked me in the back then hid on the opposite side like a kid. I turned and there he was, Shilo Harris smiling. He introduced me to his three sons, all good looking boys. We talked for a several minutes, then he was gone.

How many speakers would do that to someone they'd met once? And how many people has he met on tour? To him I wasn't just a blurred face in the crowd. I was a friend

This year's DFW Writers Conference brought something unexpected: the blessing, honor and privilege of meeting Shilo Harris, a hero, an inspiration, a man who helped me see past the physical. Serendipity brought us together, aligning an unfathomable number of events, events neither one of us could control, events as simple as a long drink line, events as complex as securing conference keynotes.

I admit, I'm not a deep thinker. I seldom reflect and I avoid philosophy. I also tend to live in the moment. Things happen then I forget and move on. Essentially, my field of view is narrow, like I'm wearing blinders.

That said, where do I take this from here?

Will my meeting Shilo Harris be like the exercise equipment in the corner of the room, pushed aside, collecting dust, or will I use the meeting to improve myself, like so many others he's touched, helped, given hope? More importantly will I try to escape my comfort zone to become more like Shilo Harris by helping others inside and outside of the writing community? Is anyone truly changed by meeting someone once? If there is a desire, an emptiness, a hunger in their soul for change, to overcome.

The DFW Writers Conference and the DFW Writers' Workshop have helped expand my comfort zone and brought many new friends into my life. A multitude of writers' workshops and conferences are built on mutual support, friendship, helping others, being helped. How much we help and how much we are helped depends on us.

Can I change? Most definitely. Can we change the world? You bet. How do we do it? By charging out of our comfort zone, taking off our blinders, and taking action.

I pray that my path will cross Shilo's again and that I will become a better person for having met him.
To learn more about Shilo Harris go to

-- Eric Dixon, DFWWW Member Since 2008

DFWCON: Finding Your Tribe

Originally published July 23, 2015

By Brian Tracey

With ThrillerFest, a week-long New York City writers' conference, still in my rear view mirror and DFWCon just ahead, I've discovered everything I knew about writing conferences is wrong.

Like many writers, I approached my first conference with my perfectly practiced pitch and my carefully crafted manuscript just knowing that soon I'd be signing with the agent who would make all my dreams come true. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

After the devastating discovery that I, in fact, had no idea how to write, I became certain that the key to conferences was a focus on craft. I then packed my conference schedules full of classes. Point of view. Plotting. Character. Structure. I took them all. Craft. That was what it was all about. Still wrong.

It’s taken countless conferences from The Big Apple to The Big D, some serious trial and error, but I’ve finally figured it out.

Conferences are about finding your tribe.

It took several years before I noticed something about the people at these conferences who I'd met and grown to know along the way. They’ve become important to me. Very important. On the surface, they're not like me. Politically, religiously, racially, sexual orientation, you name it. We are different. There is, however, one characteristic that transcends it all. Something so personal, so profound, so intimate that all of those differences wash away. These people are writers.

And because they're writers, they know. They know what it's like. They know how it feels. They know the experience of having voices in their heads that won't shut up until the words appear on paper or on the screen, words that are sometimes rejected, bashed, and abused. Mostly, if not surprisingly, they want to tell you what it is like for them and they want to hear what it's like for you, even if they've already sold three hundred million books or they've yet to sell one. Because they know.

DFWCON I hope you find your agent at DFWCON. I hope you improve your craft. But more importantly I hope you choose to reach out and go find your tribe. Because when you land your agent and when you improve your craft (and those are unlikely to occur in that order), your tribe will be there to cheer you on and help carry you to the next stop in this insane journey that those voices have driven us to take. They will do this because they’ve been there or they are there or they will be there.

They do this because they’re writers.

-- Brian Tracey, DFWWW Member since 2012

Strange Afterlives Anthology is Now Available on Amazon!

Not every monster started as human.

Strange AfterlivesIn this anthology of eleven original tales - ten by DFW Writers' Workshop members - the undead are never quite expected. From sinister feline mummies to ravenous zombified cars and any and all things in-between, the living dead have returned from their graves, junkyards, and even the war torn skies to haunt the lands of the living. With stories horrific, funny, and weird, Strange Afterlives has a little something for everyone who has ever wondered what terrible secrets could be lurking in that rotting tree or broken toy.

Edited by former DFWWW board member and "a pretty cool guy (according to his mother)", A. Lee Martinez, STRANGE AFTERLIVES is available on Amazon for $0.99.

Buy it now see firsthand why you should join the workshop, if you haven't already.

Stories included in this anthology:

Mouse Trouble by A. Lee Martinez

After the Invasion by Russell C. Connor

Seated Woman with Child by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Roots by Brooke Fossey

The Late Mrs. Buttons by Sally Hamilton

An Undercover Haunting by Kristi Hutson

GImme Shelter by David C. Whiteman

01001110 by Nik Holman

The Runner by John Bartell

Night Witch by Shawn Scarber

The Scavenger Hunt by John Sanders Jr.

STRANGE AFTERLIVES will terrify and amuse. You may never look at a rusted automobile the same way again.

And be sure to join us any Wednesday night at 7:00 pm at The Simmons Center in Euless to see how DFWWW authors keep producing wonderful stories like the ones in this anthology.

"The Pedestriennes" Earns Independent Publisher Bronze Medal

Good news continues to roll in for DFWWW!

Congratulations to workshop member, Harry Hall!

Harry's book, The Pedestriennes: America’s Forgotten Superstars earned the Bronze Medal for History (US) from

According to the announcement from Independent Publisher, "Gold, silver and bronze "IPPY" medals will be awarded in 78 national, 24 regional, and ten e-book categories, chosen from nearly 6,000 entries from authors and publishers in all 50 U.S. states, eight Canadian provinces, and 34 countries overseas. The winners make up a reading list that is extensive and diverse, featuring new voices and viewpoints passionately expressed through soulful memoirs, insightful self-help books, and penetrating critiques of our social and political systems."

More about the book:

"ThPedestriennese Pedestriennes: America's Forgotten Superstars" tells the little-known story of a handful of late 19th century female athletes who dazzled America with their remarkable performances in endurance walking. Frequently performing in front of large raucous crowds, pedestriennes walked on makeshift tracks set-up in reconfigured theatres and opera houses. Top pedestrennes often earned more money in one week than the average American took home in a year. Newspapers reported on their achievements and interviewed the champions. Their walking outfits became fashion plates, their pictures were sold in stores and they made personal appearances as national celebrities. The pedestriennes' exploits reshaped the country's attitudes about what women could accomplish and established the foundation for modern sports, the revival of the Olympic Games and the suffragist movement.

More about Harry:

In his 20 year writing career, Harry Hall's work has appeared in several publications, including Runner-Triathlete News, Mayborn magazine and The Dallas Morning News. Along the way, Harry interviewed celebrities such as Robin RoHarry Hallberts, Earl Campbell, Jim Courier, and Chuck Norris. He's covered a variety of amateur and professional sporting events, including the Byron Nelson Golf Tournament, US Olympic Track and Field Trials, and the Boston Marathon. A long-time public speaking instructor, he wrote a book on overcoming the fear of public speaking, "Help! Everyone is Staring at Me." A one-time syndicated columnist and radio talk show host, Harry was named the Texas Dietetic Association's Media Personality of the Year, and is a member of the Mayborn Author's Guild.

Congratulations again to Harry.

Join us any Wednesday night at 7:00 pm at The Simmons Center in Euless to see how DFWWW authors keep bringing home the wins.

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