Very Short Writing Advice


If you’re writing “because,” you’re writing the wrong kind of sentence for story.

“Because” is a word for boardroom reports, the newswire, nonfiction. In this example, I’m writing about a character named Bilal moving to new city for the first time:

     It was different and exciting. New York was iconic, huge, scintillating, dangerous. Multicultural. Its wealth, however, was a problem. Bilal wasn’t wealthy.

I might have stuck a “because” in after “problem.”

     Its wealth, however, was a problem, because Bilal wasn’t wealthy.

But why? You can—and should, in story—make your declarations about causes by proximity.

     With glee, Billy tore the wrapping paper off, revealing a blue Schwinn bike. He froze, and his mouth sank first into a pout, then into a bugle blowing vociferous wails. He had wanted a bicycle, but not a blue one.

Can you see where “because” might have serve as a connector word? After “wails.”

In fiction it is more desirable technique to simply put things forward unconnected by reason. Why?

Answer: because a good story is airy, spacious. (See what I did there?) A good story invites readers in to the witness the action as if there on the stage or the movie set. The reader then sees (and hears and smells, etc.) all that transpires and draw his/her own conclusions. It’s very slight, it’s only one word, but “because” has the power to shut the reader out of the interpretive process. It takes away their active role.

Fiction should depict events that provoke thought. It should not explain too much.

The unimportant but necessary logistics of summary exposition scenes are good places to be explanatory, if you must be explanatory. We will not mind hearing that the protagonist drove his roommate’s car to the party because his own had been destroyed in the flood. Seems a necessary part of the plot, and we might not have time for a whole flood, and anyway it sounds like the destruction of the car predates the present action.

If Lloyd some time ago in flashback divorced Laura because of her carousing, that to seems like a welcome use of such blunt factuality. It’s not the thing that readers are here to discover in the present story. It’s just good information that will inform the current scenes.

However, drag out the becauses during the plot climax, on details that are key to the theme, and will annoy readers.

     “And there the conch shell sat on her shelf for years after that night with Vince, because it reminded her…”

Ugh, no.

     “Timothy raced back to the house, hoping to catch Evelyn before the taxi picked her up, because then he could stop her…”

Clumsy examples make broad points. You know to be less heavy-handed than these examples. But try and see just how light-handed you can be without because. Maybe you’ll never need it again, until Terry Gross asks, “Why did you write this book?”