Let Your Questions Dig Deep into Your Writing

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I’m feeling weary but great on this rainy Saturday afternoon. The writing has been going well. I finished the first draft on Book one of The Light Never Lies a week ago. I kept up a decent daily word count on the writing for Book two all of last week. Today I managed to get my detailed outline for Book two completed. For me the outline is very much a back and forth process – I write a bit, outline a bit, go back and write a bit more and then outline some more. The best part of this kind of outlining is that it leaves lots of leeway for new ideas to emerge

This time around I have been using all kinds of outline props – coloured post-it note chapter pages, calendar pages, a story grid. All of these methods are a means to gather a lot of information together in a way that keeps the pertinent points in the forefront of my awareness.

Book two contained some emotional scenes and I found myself writing with tears flowing more than once. My novels attempt to deal authentically with difficult situations that can occur in young people’s lives from the point of view of young people themselves. I also examine the ways that the adults who surround these young people act and react within the contexts of their own life experience and circumstances. Lots of room for emotion.

I’m now looking ahead to the tools I will need when the first draft of The Light Never Lies is complete and I embark on the long and painful process of rewriting. Last night I came across a great article written by C.S. Lakin. Five Key Questions to Ask as You Write Your Novel.  Lakin is an author, copyeditor and writing coach. The questions I’ve summarized below struck me as being exactly what I will need.

1. Where does this scene take place? All you might need here is a whisper of information to drop the reader into the setting or there could be room for bringing in the various senses with richly textured description. You have to make sure the reader can get into the setting with your characters.

2. How much time has gone by since the last scene? Scenes need to string together in a cohesive fashion. If you jump forward or back you need to provide the reader with enough information so they can make the jump with you.

3. What does the point-of-view character think and feel as the action of the scene unfolds? Characters are revealed in the way they react to situations. This can’t always be told only through dialogue. Characters react viscerally, emotionally, physically and finally intellectually. Sometimes the scene requires that we allow the reader into the point-of-view characters head.

4. What is the point of the scene? If there is no point, it shouldn’t be in the novel at all. Every scene must either reveal character or move plot along or do both at the same time. And every single scene should be building toward that high moment in the story arc.

5. What is your protagonist’s goal in the book? You really should reveal this to the reader as soon as possible. This goal needs to be the driving force through every single scene you write.

Lakin recommends that a writer get in the habit of asking questions of their work at every stage of the writing process. I think this is one of the most useful suggestions I have come across.

This morning I started off my writing time by reading over what I wrote yesterday. Then I imagined I was a beta reader of my own novel. I wrote down about five questions – things I would wonder about or worry about or need clarified if I wasn’t the writer of this novel. Then I went back and tried to answer those questions. In the act of answering, I realized what made sense and what didn’t. I could see where to write more, where to cut and where to change direction.

So – here is my tip of the day – come up with a few question with which to explore your current writing. Questions allow us to dig in, poke around a bit and shake things up. There is no such thing as a stupid question and nothing so perfect that it can’t be questioned. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

(the above picture is a photograph of a painting that hangs in our living room – it is an oil on canvas entitled The Secret Garden by Mangus – it is a piece worthy of pondering, poking around in and settling down for a good think.)

4 comments on “Let Your Questions Dig Deep into Your Writing

  1. Gwen says:

    Questioning is a powerful tool. I’m planning a future post on where I am in the writing process, with a different sort of questioning.

  2. A wonderful post. We are currently working both on questioning and “zooming-in” on a scene/moment in my classroom . You have provided me with inspiration as I plan my lesson. Thank you!

  3. […] wrote an earlier post about asking questions of my writing. I find myself doing a lot of that type of questioning the […]

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