‘Because’ is a problematic word in fiction writing, not because there is anything inherently wrong with it, but because it invites over explanation.

We can use ‘because’ but it is best to use it in moderation. I could argue that the repetition of ‘because’ has the same effect as the repetition of any word, which it does because repetition creates emphasis, you might be noticing that right now. However, ‘because’ always leads an explanation, ‘this thing happened because of this’. The over use of ‘because’ suggests we’re also over using telling.

When we’re writing fiction some things need explaining but not everything. If we’re explaining everything then we’re not leaving the reader enough space to figure things out for themselves, infer meaning, or simply try to guess at motives. For example, if we’re writing a murder mystery and we explain every clue then we’re likely to give away the murderer before they’re revealed. If we’re drawing attention to the clues with ‘this is important because’ we also can’t slip in subtle clues that only become evident later on in the story.

Another problem with the over use of ‘because’ is the risk of convoluted sentences where we explain one thing with ‘because’ followed by another ‘because’ which risks derailing the flow of the narrative. If we’re explain ‘this happens because’ and ‘that happens because’ then we’re not moving forward with the narrative. In a first draft this is less important because we’re often developing the ‘because’ as we go but when we revise it we have to remember that the story needs forward motion to keep the reader reading. This forward motion doesn’t have to be conspicuous, such as action, but if we take action as an example imagine how much slower an action scene would be if the narrator was always explaining things with ‘because’. For example:

‘They punched with their left hand because they were left handed. They ducked because they were avoiding a blow. They ran away because it was bloody dangerous.’

This is an exaggerated example but you can see the way the ‘because’ slows everything down. Instead we could have:

‘They punched, ducked a blow and ran.’

We don’t need an explicit ‘because’ because it’s implicit in the context of the sentence, nor do we need to know how they punched. We might want to say where they punched in some contexts, we may have a character who routinely gets in fights and doesn’t panic, or they could be a character that does panic but aims for the nose, we don’t need to say why because everyone knows a nose is breakable. We also don’t need to say why they ran away because they’re being attacked so running away is a reasonable reaction.

In short ‘because’ has nothing inherently wrong with it but we do need to consider why we’re using ‘because’. Are we presenting the reader with essential information or are we explaining something that doesn’t need explaining, or would be better left unexplained? We must also consider how clear our explanations are or if too many becauses has made them convoluted and confusing. It doesn’t matter how interesting our story is if there’s too much explanation or the sentence construction is too convoluted for the reader to follow.

Whatever our writing style it is always important to be clear so the reader can follow where we’re leading them.

Article Archive 1

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: