I think I was in grade two when my mother stopped helping me with homework. Perhaps it was because I was capable on my own. Perhaps it was because I had a smart and diligent older sister who could help me. Perhaps it was because Mom was busy with our home and the first of my three younger sisters. Or, perhaps, and quite likely, it was because I tried her patience.
I was a capable child. My mind was quick, and thinking was something I loved to do. However, this pondering often led me to ask why and what if — the kind of questions that don’t always have answers. I think this propensity to question was truly what led my mother to allow me to take charge of my homework. I clearly remember her telling me “because that is how it is done” on more than one occasion when I questioned why something had to be completed in a particular fashion.
I have not outgrown my questioning nature. I still ask why and what if; however, what once frustrated my mother has become somewhat of an asset to me as an adult. In addition to being a writer, I am a teacher, and questioning is something I get to do on a daily basis. In class, we often ponder why things happen as they do and consider what might happen if things were done differently. We don’t always find an answer, but then often, questioning isn’t as much about the answer as it is about the curiosity inspired and the thinking processes initiated by the question. It is about viewing things from various perspectives and gaining insights and understanding.
Questioning can help us see more clearly the motivation behind an action, which is helpful both when dealing with real life characters in a classroom and the imaginary characters in a story. I constantly question characters both when I read and when I write. Nobody, whether real or imaginary, acts without some source of motivation. Examining motivations and questioning how a change in circumstances might alter a story is what I love about writing Jane Austen Fan Fiction. I get to ponder and create possible answers to why and what if.
In my most recent book, Listen to Your Heart, I was not the only one questioning motivations. In this scene, Lady Matlock, Darcy, Richard, and Lady Catherine are discussing the topic of helping Anne finding a husband.
“I really do not understand why you are so set against your own brother, Catherine. Whatever did he do to lose your faith in him? As he tells it, you were very close when you were children.”
Richard watched a shadow of sadness pass across his aunt’s face before her features once again grew hard.
“That was long ago and many things have happened between then and now, some can never be undone, so it does not signify.” She looked sternly at Darcy and Richard. “I trust you both know a young lady is more than a mere pawn to be used and sacrificed in the play of a game?” She had risen and stood beside the game table. Purposefully, she moved a few pieces on the board. “I am trusting you — as I have been left no other option — to protect my daughter as if she were the most valuable piece on that board — no matter the cost.”
Richard studied the scene she had left. His king, the most valuable piece, stood in danger with merely a pawn for protection. He had two options; one offered him a move closer to capturing Darcy’s king while the other would allow him to protect his pawn and subsequently, his king. If he took the first option, his pawn would surely be taken and his king would be more difficult, though not impossible, to defend. Should he choose the second option, he would strengthen the defense around his king, but his queen, his most powerful piece of defense, would be lost.
He knew his skills as a player; to lose the pawn and place Darcy’s king closer to capture was the route he would have decided upon in normal play, but this was not normal play. He was to imagine that pawn as Anne and defend her as he would his king. Without a second thought, he left his queen to be captured.
Richard looked at the hand which lay on his shoulder and then to the face of his aunt. She smiled softly at him. It was a new expression. For a moment, a mere moment, he glimpsed the vulnerability within her. To say that this startled him would be owning only half the truth. He had never thought of her as anything but the epitome of strength and determination. So strong, so determined, that, at times, she was very like a dragon, hunting and slaying as it saw fit, ruling its domain with tenacity.
Richard’s eyes returned to the board as he watched Darcy capture his queen. He wondered if fear provoked her tenacity. He had seen battle. Even the most soft-spoken of soldiers became as a roaring lion in the face of peril. What had his aunt faced that had caused her to become as she now was?
Richard is right, of course. Lady Catherine has good reason to be as cantankerous as she is. Later, through his questioning, she comes to understand that her reasons are not completely sound, and she begins to consider things from a different perspective. And, that is the beauty of questioning.