What’s your story…question, that is…

November 15, 2006 | Articles | 1 comment

I am in the process of reading Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. I really recommend it, if you haven’t read it yet. It takes a lot of information from Swain’s book and makes them much easier (at least for me) to digest.

Anyway, Bickham talks a lot about the story question. Reading what he has to say made me realize that has been the problem with a number of books I’ve tried to read (and given up on) lately. The writing was fine–nothing wrong with how the sentences were crafted or the balance of dialogue to description, but as I was reading I’d think–what is the point?

Now I realize these authors hadn’t clearly laid out the story question for me (the reader). And not having done that in the first place, made it pretty much impossible for the scenes to pull me through the story. Yes, perhaps the POV character had a goal in each scene, but since it didn’t really tie back to an overall story question–why should I care?

This also gave me cause to think about the story question/questions in my own work. My upcoming Nocturne release (Unbound) had three main plot lines–the hero’s, the heroine’s, and the romance. There is a story question for each of these. His: Will he escape his bond to the immortal witch who has owned him for 500 years? Hers: Will she find and save her sister? Romance: Will they get and stay together? With three strong story questions it made writing the book a lot easier. Also by knowing the story questions in your work, it makes it a lot easier to know whether a scene should stay or go.

Conventional wisdom is that a scene should have at least three purposes, that it should start with a goal, involve action toward that goal, and end with some form of a disaster. I’m going to add to that that the scene’s goal should also, in some way, tie back to one of the story questions. It is not enough that the POV character has a goal for that scene, if that goal will not take him/her closer to answering the question laid out in the beginning.

So, that’s my take on it–and what I want from a book. Anyone else see it differently? Anyone else read a book lately that didn’t seem to have a clear cut (or at least clearly defined) story question?


1 Comment

  1. Edie Ramer

    Lori, my own wip is like that. I finished the first draft but realized the characters’ GMCs weren’t strong enough to carry it through the whole book. They are now. I’ll need to rewrite huge chunks of the book, but it will be worth it.