(Warning: spoiler alert for Batman v Superman fans.)
Readers of this newsletter know that I am constantly hammering away at the fact that you have to ask why about everything you are writing – why are you motivated to write this particular book, why you want to make the point you are making, why your ideal reader should care, why your characters do what they do, want what they want, and struggle the way they must struggle.
I do this because readers come for the why, and it’s the why that gives story its emotional power. Without it, your writing will be flat and unable to draw the reader in. It’s easy to know the what of the world – we see it every day as we go about our lives. It’s almost relatively easy to know the how of the world – biology gives us that, and chemistry and physics and medicine and economists. By the why? That’s what we’re all desperately trying to figure out all the time and that’s what stories allow us: a chance to see why people do what they do.
Last night I saw Batman v Superman -- not my usual choice in movies but my daughter and her boyfriend are visiting and he’s a big fan, so off we all went.
These superhero’s stories are entirely built on why. Batman and Superman’s why stories are well known and straightforward – one lost the love of his parents early on, the other gained love he never thought he would have.
The one I didn’t know much about was Wonder Woman. She is introduced in this movie, and in the LA Times yesterday there was an interview with Gal Gadot, the actress who plays her. The interviewer asks Gadot about a battle scene in which she smiles before going in for the kill. Here is her reply, in which she is recalling a conversation with director Zach Snyder:
“After we did that take, Zack came to me and he said, "Did you just have a smirk?" I said "Yeah." And he asked, "Why? I think I like it, but why?" "Well if he's gonna mess with her, then she's gonna mess with him. And she knows she's gonna win." At the end of the day Wonder Woman is a peace seeker. But when fight arrives, she can fight. She's a warrior and she enjoys the adrenaline of the fight.
Even in comics come to life, in a superhero movie where the strokes are painted broadly, why is at the heart of everything.
It was one smile, one smirk, but the director stopped everything to understand it, and the actress had a deeply thought-out why. It wasn’t random, it wasn’t accidental, it wasn’t an afterthought: it was the story itself.