Questions are what keep readers interested in a story. At every moment in your novel, the reader must want to know the answer to a question, otherwise there’s no reason to keep reading. There are three types of questions in every good story, and I’ll endeavour to give you some tips on how to make these questions entice readers all the way to The End.
3 Tips for Writing Questions
The Big Question. Every novel needs one big question. This is quite literally the reason for reading the book. It is set up at the beginning and not answered until the very end. In a murder mystery it’s: Who is the killer? In a romance it’s: Will the heroine find true love? In a fantasy quest it’s: How will the hero overthrow the forces of evil? For this question to be compelling enough to last 300 pages or more, it cannot be easy to answer. In fact, it’s imperative that the hero not know how to answer it, struggle continuously with how to answer it, and appear to be unable to answer it until the moment of truth at the very end of the book.
Little Questions. These compliment the big question, but never distract from or replace it. Little questions add intrigue to the big question, such as: Why is the murderer targeting girls born in May? or How does the love interest know so much about the heroine? or Why does the prophecy name this chump as the chosen one? The more little questions you raise, the better. Though be careful not to dump them all into the story at once. Pepper them throughout the book. And when you answer one, ask another. Ideally, these little questions and answers will make the reader want to know the answer to the Big Question even more!
Unanswered Questions. Is it ever okay to not answer a question you’ve raised in the story? I think so, but with two caveats – 1) the author must at least hint at what the answer could be (or else it seems as if the author simply forgot about the question which is not cool), and 2) the unanswered questioned canNOT be the Big Question. Nothing makes readers more angry! Imagine reading a murder mystery and not finding out who the murderer is?! Remember, the Big Question is the whole reason the reader is reading your book. You must answer it, even if you have a sequel planned. If you want to be mysterious, leave some little questions unanswered for the sequel.
2 Examples of Powerful Questions
TRUST ME, I’M LYING by Mary Elizabeth Summer is full of questions! Of course, this is a mystery thriller, so it serves to reason that the question count would be high. The big one is: Where is Julep’s father and is he still alive? And there are tons of the little questions that arise from that: Who ransacked their apartment? Did they kill her dad? Did they kidnap him? Is her dad hiding somewhere? Who was her dad working for? What do her dad’s clues mean? Why is Mr. Popular being so helpful with her investigation? How will she pay rent with her dad missing? Will social services find out she’s on her own and put her into foster care? And that’s just the beginning! As you’ve probably noticed, many questions make high stakes! And that’s a good thing.
WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart is a novel that takes a different approach. Instead of a bunch of questions, it sets up one question so compelling that you must read to the end to find out the answer. This approach worked for this book – it was a hit. But the danger in writing this way is that if your ending doesn’t surprise and pay off, the reader will be disappointed. I definitely was. Luckily for Lockhart, I’m in the minority on this one.
1 Link for more help
Often the Big Question is referred to as the story’s Hook. For more on hooks and how they connect to theme and endings, check out this post: 3 Things That Make A Story Worth Writing.
If you’re just joining us, here’s a list of more BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing posts from last week: