As writers, we live with our stories for a long time, from the moment we get the spark, through the daydreaming, brainstorm, planning and writing stages. But it does mean we sometimes forget our readers don’t know everything unless we show them.
In this era of self-publishing, I have found that a good number of the self-published books I’ve read didn’t really felt like completed, polished works.
Sometimes, people are so eager to be “published” that they aren’t taking the time to really get into the meat of their manuscript. They have potential, but just fall short.
I am left asking questions throughout the entire book.
This Brings Me To The Power of Questions
As a writer, I have found that questions are so damn important to help you make your story great.
When you read through your draft, or your scenes or whatever section you feel like reading through (depending on how your writing/editing process goes) you need to be asking questions constantly.
I like to write my novel in scenes (not chapters or huge blocks of text) but by specific scenes. When I finally come to weaving the whole thing together, it takes no time to add in those tie-ins that have one scene move to another.
So when I read through my scenes, I list the questions at the bottom.
What Am I Supposed To Be Questioning?
Everything! You need to be able to account for things in your novel.
For example, say you have the following line in your scene:
The sun hung low in the sky, a pale disc barely peaking through the clouds.
Immediately my questions are:
- What time is it in this scene?
- Would the sun be low in the sky?
- What time of year is it?
After all, if you have set up the scene earlier and have mentioned that it’s the height of summer and it’s noon, the sun won’t be low in the sky… depending on your location.
It may seem trivial but even small queries like this need to be addressed. Firstly, some readers are bound to pick up on it,. Secondly, if you miss these then what else have you missed?
You need to develop the habit of asking questions throughout every scene. It doesn’t have to be stupid things like “Why are the curtains green?” But there will be things within the scene that need to be confirmed, justified, explained.
Questions also help to reduce continuity issues.
My Personal Experience
I have a personal example from my own manuscript.
A character drove to a specific part of the city, entered a shop, then walked down the street in search of someone. While walking they get grabbed and carted away.
Fast forward to later on, the drama has happened but they were brought back to their home directly. Next day this character needs to go somewhere… where’s the car?
I had written the next scene that they step outside their apartment and climb into their car. But the car had been left at the shop and then they were snatched.
Those who took the character returned her to the apartment, not to the car. I had just breezed right over that.
On a second pass, it was glaringly obvious but it had been so minor it was easy to miss. By asking myself questions about the scene, it was instantly drawn to my attention.
Questions Are Brilliant
You always need to be asking yourself questions:
- Why does character A do that?
- Should character B really react that way?
- Would these characters even get cell reception if they are hiking up that mountain?
- If that couple just had a screaming row, would they really be organising a dinner party one hour later?
When you start to critically look at your work and ask these kinds of questions, you start to develop it as a habit and errors stop slipping past you (well, maybe not in the first pass)
If a book leaves me with too many unanswered questions I usually consider it a bad book and am off the author. If while reading I’m thinking “but why would he say that?” or “but surely if someone just died in the school, people would at least react?”
For example: If 5 people are killed inside a church, the church would be unlikely to reopen the next day and carry out a wedding as normal.
And if it did, there would need to be some specific statement that this murderer is not able to kill faith or that this church will remain a beacon of hope and not merely known as a murder site…
Think about what you are writing, think about what you are reading. Think about what message you want to convey.
If you have someone you trust to give you an honest critique, let that person in. Either a good reader or another writer will often be able to query issues that you may have missed.
Develop the skill in questioning what’s going on, not just at a high plot level, but even at the smaller levels. It all helps.