Episode 3: Because

Lots of injunctions in the negative so far in the first two episodes. They won’t all be like this. They can’t all be like this. They mustn’t all be like this!

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

“Because” is a word for boardroom reports, the newswire, the therapist’s office. In this example, I’m writing about a character name Paul, who has moved to New York for the first time:

It was different. New York was iconic, huge, scintillating, dangerous. Multicultural. Its wealth, however, was a problem. Boustrophedon was not wealthy.

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

Its wealth, however, was a problem, because Boustrophedon was not wealthy.

But why? You can—and should, in story—make your declarations about causes through 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 forth unconnected by reason. Why?

Answer: because a good story is airy, spacious. A good story invites readers in to the witness the action. The reader then sees (and hears and smells, etc.) all that transpires and draws his/her own conclusions. It gives them an active role. “Because” is only one word, it’s very slight, but it has the power to shut the reader out of the interpretive process.

Fiction should depict events that provoke thought, not explain too many things.

To play devil’s advocate: the unimportant but necessary logistics of summary exposition 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 too 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, insertion of 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, I’m sure. 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?”