Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Story Question

by Rebecca Talley

When I first started writing, I didn't understand the importance of the story question and that it's imperative to establish the story question at the beginning of the novel so the reader knows what it is the main character most wants, in this story, and what will happen if she/he doesn't get it. This creates tension and when the reader understands what's at stake she/he will root for your main character. Without a story question, the story itself falls flat.

In a murder mystery, the story question is generally: Will Joe the Detective find out who killed the blonde woman? In a romance, the story question is usually: Will Anne fall in love with David? In other fiction, the story question can be almost anything: will Sam find the hidden treasure? Will Sarah find happiness in her new life? Will John turn his life around before it's too late? Will Alison stop the aliens before they take over earth?

The author must know the story question. Without it, a story will flounder and readers won't know who to root for or why. Readers have to understand why  the story question is so important to the character. What will happen if Sam doesn't find the hidden treasure? Will he lose his family? His life? His chance at happiness? Why is it so important for him to find that treasure?

Once you, as the author, know the story question, you need to work it into your story, preferably within the first chapter to compel the reader from the first few pages to keep reading. The rest of the story will then be in search of answering that story question.

How do you work in the story question? You can do it through dialogue, action, inner monologue, or description. It's up to you to choose the best way to give the reader the information.

Think about your own work-in-progress. Have you established a story question? Have you made it clear to the reader what your main character wants, what stands in his way (also known as conflict), and what will happen if he doesn't obtain his goal?

Let's play a game. In the comments, list the story question either for your own WIP or for a well-known novel.

I'll start. In my novel, Altared Plans, the story question is: Can Caitlyn find love again after being dumped at the temple? The rest of the novel has something to do with that question.

Your turn.


Steve Westover said...

My Story Question for Crater Lake is... Can Ethan decipher the mysteries of Crater Lake in time to save his parents from the earthen prison that devoured them?

Rebecca Talley said...


Rebecca Shelley said...

Hi, my story question for the next Smartboys club book is "Will Monkey find his head in time for the Halloween masquerade?"

LOL. It feels weird working on an October book in February. I keep wanting to do the Valentines book, but I can't skip the next four books in the series to jump to Valentines. So Halloween it is.

Rebecca Shelley

Joan of Ark said...

My story question is will Netti be able to grow and save enough of the seeds/beans she found to make her mother's delicious baked beans to share with her family?

franklycreative said...

What a great post. Thanks for the invitation to share. My story question for my WIP, Literary Loom is: Will Josh ever be free from those who seem to want to control his life, including his own big mouth?

Carolyn Frank

Happily Cheesy said...

Excellent focus. The story question should reflect the theme of the book, the deeper element and learning point--or statement of the author. Thus, the question proves an intense process for someone as scatterbrained as myself.

My favorite story question to start with is the deceptive kind, the one that leads the reader down a different avenue, only to be surprised half way through the book that the question is actually something quite different, although related.

Gail said...

My story question is: Will Azure be able to overcome the destructive creature she was created to be?
Now I'm going to see if I've woven it in clearly.

Peggy Urry said...

Great post Rebecca. For my WIP, Bound: Will Siri be able to fulfill the deathbed wish of her mother to return the sacred amulet to a king she doesn't even know how to find?

kbrebes said...

Will Shelley find a way to save her family or fall to evil?

Good post. I wish Happily Cheesy would have left an example or two!

Steve Westover said...

This is a great post Rebecca and I love seeing everyone's Story Questions. Very Cool!

Canda said...

These are great to read. For my WIP Amnesty: Will Cassie find a way to help Alyssa heal her life, giving Cassie amnesty from the damnation sentence she received at judgment?