Thursday, May 06, 2010


The note came yesterday, and since reading it, I've thought of little else.

What note? Isn't it amazing how powerful a question is? For instance:

1. Why did she hide the letter?
2. Is someone in the house with me?
3. Who else knew she always put cream in her coffee?
4. Did she sense someone behind her at the train stop?
5. Why did the police car circle the hill twice?
6. Do you know where my baby is?
7. Where did all this money come from?
8. Did he tell his secret before he died?
9. What do these numbers mean?
10. What's in the box?

Questions, or rather discovering the answers to questions, are what keep us engaged in a conversation, in a movie, in a book. Often the question isn't in that form. Narrative reveals a bullet riddled body missing hands and feet has washed ashore along the river. We extrapolate the question from the report. Why would a murderer cut off someone's hands and feet? Or we read that someone's long lost lover who disappeared ten years before and is presumed the victim of foul play, turns up alive and well and living in Cancun. Why did he do that to her?

Questions are an invaluable tool for a writer. We ask them when we start thinking "What if ----?" As we plot, we refine them: What kind of person --- would live in this remote place --- would kidnap their teacher --- would resort to blackmail --- would fall for such a blatant lie? And as the plot unfolds, we ask a million others. The answers only seem to beget a new slew of questions.

We can also use questions to pry ourselves out of a temporary knot. Story dead in the water? Start asking those characters of yours some very pointed questions and do it like you mean it, soldier!
You -- "Okay, Missy, why did what he just said make you so angry?"
Missy- "He hurt my feelings."
You -- "You weren't hurt, you were mad."
Missy -- "No--"
You -- "Don't try that act on me. I made you, I can take you down. Tell the truth!"
Missy -- "Because he lied to me! Again. He always lies and I always believe him. There, are you happy?"
You (smirking) -- "You're still holding back, but at least you aren't sniveling anymore."

Questions, of course, are the manifestation of this thing most of us battle on a daily basis -- curiosity. Curiosity is both why we write and why we read. The need to know and understand and be thrilled and excited and "live" a situation or a dialogue are a direct reflection of basic curiosity.

Do you ask yourself and your characters questions? And out of the questions above, which one would you like answered (please provide an answer as elaborate or as simple as you wish.)

As for the note that came yesterday? What did it say? Simple --
Alice -- don't forget to blog tomorrow @ the MWV-RWA Blog!


Paty Jager said...

LOL- Fun blog, Alice!

I am constantly asking me questions, my characters questions, anyone who will give me an answer questions. My goodness, this latest WIP- I'm in a continual cloud of questions.
Just this morning...Is the sun directly over head at noon in Guatemala? What kind of hut would this man be living in? Does he have a large stone carving, a small trinket, or pottery that catches her attention? Who is going to show up and cause trouble? Are they ever going to get to the dig? What happens then? They have to part, can I keep them in each others minds and keep the other tensions of the story high and not lose the romance factor?

Oh wait, you wanted to know about your questions....Sorry, I have enough of my own!

Katie said...

Ah, the power of questions. Of course, it all makes sense to ask questions about your story, because asking is how you learn. It's the opening of your mind and trying to find solutions that leads you to answers. This was a very well executed and thought-provoking post. Thank you. ^_^

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty -- every writer is full of questions, I know that. Your questions are way more interesting than mine, and more pertinent, esp. in your book. Now I want to know if he has a large stone carving and what's going to happen when they get to the dig -- if they ever do.

Alice Sharpe said...

Oh, Katie, you are so supportive. Thank you. You know way more than I did at your age -- I'm expecting a Katie best seller by 2015. No pressure... keep asking questions....

Katie said...

2015? Oh, pshaw. Look for me on shelves by 2012! That would be so cool... that's my goal. Maybe it will be a best seller by 2015, though. IDK. I'm gonna work my pants off to make it happen!