I can’t say I came up with this challenge. It first appeared to me in my monthly Friday Nighters critique group, though I’m sure it’s older than that. I’m not sure how many times my pages came back with multiple “but why?” in the margins. I soon came to despise them; however, I later embraced them. You see, by not taking the easy way out, it forced me to look at the various motivations in my WIP and validate or clarify them, for myself and more importantly, my readers, making my writing richer.
The easiest explanation (in a horror movie) is the audience needs the scare/suspense so we’re gonna send the character into implausible danger to make it happen. It doesn’t matter why, just so long as we have the big scare. Well a movie may get away with this, but your story won’t.
The good news? It doesn’t take much to fix the unanswered “but why”. It could be a simple thought in your character’s head (if he/she is alone): I really don’t want o go into this dark and scary basement, but the circuit breaker is in there and I really want lights on about now. Motivation now revealed, your character’s IQ has jumped by leaps and bounds.
Bob: “Are you crazy? The killer is probably down there!”
Jane: “But we need the lights on, besides there are two of us and one of him.”
Bob: “Screw that, let’s get out of here.”
Jane: Be brave, we can do this.”
Bob: “Fine, we’ll go down into the dark and scary basement, but if we die, I’m blaming you!”
Signor Ferrari: “…why, do not know. Because it cannot possibly profit me, but…”
Actor, Sydney Greenstreet’s line is a classic example of a “Plot Hole / Motivation cover up”.
Don’t take for granted your readers know the unmentioned motivation or see the gaping hole in your plot, remember to ask yourself, “but why?”