Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Story Questions

Suspense is uncertainty, a state of being undecided or undetermined. So, at bottom, suspense is a question.

For example, a person on trial hears the verdict — guilty. Sentencing will be in three days. For the next three days the convicted criminal is left in suspense about what her sentence will be. In other words, the story raises the question What will her sentence be?

Therefore, to create suspense, just raise Story Questions and leave the reader hanging for the answers.

Story questions are simply questions you plant in the reader's mind. They give the reader reason to read on. For, when you plant a story question in the reader's mind, she reads on with a purpose — to learn the answer. The desire for that answer compels her.

A story question might be a problem: it plants the question of how your hero will solve it. A story question might be a mysterious statement: it plants the question of what it means. A story question might be an ominous event: it plants the question of what will be the outcome.

Story questions may be either short-range or long-range story questions. Short-range story questions will soon be answered. Long-range story questions will be answered much later, and they include the story questions about the core conflict, which will be answered in the end.

Just as there are many types of story questions, there are many ways to plant them. In the trial-and-sentencing example above, the story question is inherent in the situation. No need to state it. Indeed, story questions are usually planted by the power of suggestion, not stated directly as questions in the text.

Plant story questions throughout the novel in every scene. They should renew suspense about the core conflict and create suspense about the conflict at hand in the scene.

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