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What was the Question?

by Beth K. Vogt

“I start with a question. Then try to answer it.” – Mary Lee Settle (1918-2005), author

The best way to start a novel is with an Inciting Incident, right? The event that changes the main character’s life – shoves them out of their normal world – and sends them on a journey.

But there’s something that a good story needs before an Inciting Incident: the Story Question. I first learned the importance of the Story Question from My Book Therapy, best-selling author Susan May Warren’s coaching community for writers. The Story Question asks a question of the heart and mind – the great “what if?” It functions like fuel for your car – the Story Question keeps your story running. If you lose sight of your Story Question, you lose the focus of your story.

How do your discover your novel’s Story Question? Ask yourself these four questions:

1. Why does your story matter to you?
(If your story doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to your readers.)

2. What is your story’s theme? (Theme = overall idea of a book. Distill it down to one word: forgiveness, honesty, trust).

3. What is your hero/heroine learning about the theme?

4. What do you want to say about the theme through your characters?

Here’s how I discovered the Story Question for my upcoming release, Catch a Falling Star:

1. Catch a Falling Star matters to me because I’ve dealt with life not going according to plan and had to learn how to handle disappointments.

2. The story’s theme is trust – specifically learning to trust God when life doesn’t turn out the way we want it to go.

3. My hero and heroine both learn that God’s plans are better – even when their hopes are disappointed/delayed.

4. As the author of Catch a Falling Star, I am showing that trusting God is a choice. Sometimes we have to let go of our dreams to embrace the life God has waiting for us.

By answering these questions I decided that my novel’s Story Question is:

What if life doesn’t go according to plan? Do you keep pushing for Plan A? Do you pull Plan B out of your back pocket? Do you settle? And where does God fit in all of this?

If you’re just starting your work-in-progress (WIP), take the time to think through your Story Question before starting to write any scenes. Already started your WIP? Hit PAUSE. Then answer the four questions and determine your Story Question before you go any farther in your story.

Once you’ve determined your Story Question, write it out and post it over your computer so you see it when you’re writing. That way, you never lose sight of what you’re aiming for as an author: Using your characters to answer your Story Question.

What Story Question are you trying to answer in your manuscript?

Beth Vogt April 2013Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best is often behind the doors marked “Never.” Despite being a nonfiction writer and editor who said she’d never write fiction, Beth’s second inspirational contemporary romance novel, Catch a Falling Star, releases May 2013 from Howard Books. Beth is also the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy (MBT), best-selling author Susan May Warren’s writing community.

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9 Responses to What was the Question?

  1. Ron Estrada says:

    Thanks, Beth. It’s easy to get lost in our own wonderful writing and lose sight of the overriding theme. My characters always seem to be on a journey of self-forgiveness, and I try to bring in other characters with similar struggles. I enjoy it because it seems such a common problem in our culture, especially among Christians. Thanks again (love the cover of your book, by the way).

  2. Lisa Jordan says:

    Story Question is one of those crafting elements I really struggle with. I love way you broke this down in easy to understand pieces. Sometimes I try to make things like this too difficult. Now I’m off to tweak my current Story Question!

  3. Alena T. says:

    Thanks Beth for making this so easy to understand!

    I’m going to review my WIP to make sure I’ve got it down.

    Blessings!

  4. Beth K. Vogt says:

    I’m glad the post was helpful to other writers. Understanding Story Question helped me too!

  5. Barry Knox says:

    Thanks Beth. That’s a great way to discover my story question. I’m planning my next novel and will make sure I ask myself those questions.

  6. Ian says:

    Beth

    4 great questions. I especially like #2: distill overall idea to one word. It’s got me thinking as I draft my latest WIP.

    Thanks for the insight.

  7. Love, love this post. As I read it, I reviewed if I was sticking to my story question of “Do you let past mistakes–yours or others–define who you are.”

  8. Karla Akins says:

    Thanks so much for this. I love how you put it so simply. I’ve saved this post in my writing notebook. God bless!

  9. Beth Vogt says:

    Barry, Ian, Pat and Karla: So glad you were helped by this post. Love your Story Question, Pat!