Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Big Questions, and they might be harder to answer than you think

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When you are writing a novel, there's a few BIG Questions you have to know the answers to. I think Larry Brooks at http://www.storyfix.com/ sums them up pretty well; these are just three from his excellent list. If you find these three questions easy to answer, check out the rest of the list to see if you can answer some of the other questions.

What is the conceptual hook/appeal of your story?

How does your story open? Is there an immediate hook

How is your hero the primary catalyst for the successful resolution of the central problem or issue in this story?

I've been subscribed to Larry's blog many months now, I've learned a ton about story structure and required elements for good story telling. And yet when I tried to answer some of these questions for my WIP (especially the first one!) I really struggled.

Have you ever run into a situation where you think you know what you're doing, because you're fairly well-read (I mean, I've read at least a dozen writing craft books, and I follow good writing craft blogs, and I've learned a ton from giving and receiving critiques) and then...

And then somebody asks you a basic question and you flounder around like a fish out of water?

That just happened to me. Asking myself just a few basic questions about my WIP is making me scratch my head, and I'm surprised, because I've put a lot of planning and outlining and structuring into this novel (I used the Writer's Journey).

I certainly know how to identify the appeal in the books I'm reading, and I can quickly spot the opening hook. So why am I so staggered that these things aren't immediately obvious in my story?

I realize I'm going to have to really put my story up against these questions and see if it can legitimately answer them, or if it needs more development or restructuring. Or just flat brainstorming!

Makes me realize how important Big Questions are, and all the writing craft in the world isn't going to help you unless you can answer them.

Have you ever floundered when someone asked you a Big Question? (this can apply outside of writing, too)

12 comments:

  1. These are great :) I definitely need to ask myself these when I'm done with that first draft!

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  2. Oh yes, I've floundered. Again and again. Sometimes I find an answer, only to change the story in some ways and realise the answer no longer works.

    Larry's blog is an incredible source of information. I'm addicted to it, too. :)

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  3. Maybe the first time I tried to pitch it to an agent. I think over time, the more one queries and is around agents the harder the skin becomes. And the more you learn about the manuscripts you write. I believe it's important to know exactly what sets your story apart when you start to write it. Always ask what will make it different from the others lining bookstore shelves. Great questions!

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  4. I remember going to my first writing conference and having an agent bring up "theme" during one of the sessions. "We all know about intriguing plots and hooks, but what is the theme of your novel?" she asked. And I had to really think about it...as in, I was still trying to figure it out in bed that night.

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  5. Oh I remember my first foray into putting out my first chapters for all the world to see - oh ok it was in an online writers' forum !! and was instantly bombarded by these questions that I could not answer to my shame!!! That was such a wake up call!! I still struggle to get a proper hook for my current wip though. I so believe in the story but trying to pitch my vision in 1/2 sentences just eludes me!!! LOL!! So yeah- still trying to answer I suppose!

    GOOD LUCK with your writing - I love your graphic chart of your goals!! Yay! Take care
    x

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  6. Oh yeah! Especially the "hook" one. In some of my manuscripts that's an easy answer. Others? Not so much! :D But that's why we keep learning, and working, and revising, right?

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  7. Claudie - so glad to hear I'm not the only one who has floundered... more than once! Yeah for Larry!

    Mary - "it's important to know exactly what sets your story apart when you start to write it" - man that is good advice. Seriously good advice. More to ponder and scratch my head over.

    Jess - yup "theme" was another one of Larry's tough questions. He just posted on it today!

    Old Kitty - I do have a two sentence logline for my WIP, but I'm not sure its sufficient for answering the big questions about hook and appeal. Right now it's good for giving people a fast answer when they ask me what I'm writing - yeah I went through that stage too when I couldn't even seem to coherently explain what I was writing about! I know I need to come up with something better for my logline though.

    Lisa - you're right, some stories are easier to answer about than others. More than ever I am learning that I am never done learning.

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  8. I do understand! Which is why I"m studying structure - so I can apply it to my own work! :)

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  9. All the time . . . even when I have the answer figured out ahead of time. :(

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  10. Yes! Raising my hand! you made me think about my WIP and I had to stop and try to be sure if I had indeed answered these.

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  11. Yep, I've floundered. Thanks for sharing the link to storyfix.com. Went and took a peek. Will check it out more, later today.

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  12. The big questions are the hardest ones (and most important) to answer. It's hard to force yourself to have a clear idea of the essence of your story, but it's also terribly important to do.

    Speaking of questions, I answered yours today! :)

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