Writing: The Art of Asking Questions

Stories are built around mystery, conflict, triumph over odds, battles, and the development of character. However, in reality, stories are merely a product of questions. Questions, those moments, glances, breathes of uncertainty first capture the mind of the writer and act as the initial point of attraction. A question, a pause, a statement, a lack of closure–it is here, in even the most minute ellipses, that a writer must ask his own question as to what is missing. What is not included? What information has been left out? Why is that question not answered? What does that ellipses not tell me? What did that pause mean?

Yes, the mind of a writer is the definition of inquisitive, as it is never quelled, quieted, satisfied.

Every story, account, biography has holes through which the writer’s mind can weaves its own tales, filling in moments of absence, silence, unanswered questions, noted events, or even the most traditional of all descriptions.

Think of the most classic of tales, rhymes, etc. In the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill”, we find a straightforward tale of two people who run into some simple issues in their attempt to get water:

Jack and Jill went up a hill,
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

To most, this seems like simple idea. The major elements of sentence and rhyme are complete and present.

However, in the mind of the writer, there are numerous questions one might ask to further develop the scenario, the characters, the location, and the mystery involving this supposed simple event.

These questions can range from the most-easily answered to that which would require a lengthy explanation. As a rule, they are split into four categories: interpersonal, practicality, motive, and integral.

Interpersonal questions deal with the individuals, the characters, and their relationships to each other and even to themselves and would be found addressed in writing where the conflict is man vs self, man vs man, and man vs God.

Practicality questions address those practical facts that tell the story, address the events, and propel the plot of the story forward itself. These questions are discussed in cause and effect writing.

Motive questions are involved in a variety of writing styles and genres, as they encapsulate most of the “why” questions one faces in writing. The answers to these questions are the accessorizing details which shape not only the answers to the interpersonal and practicality questions but offer depth to the tale created.
The integral category of questions offers the widest range of additional questioning that involves asking a variety of questions about the unspoken. They can address issues of assumed detail, missing information, and other components that non-writers might take for granted.

In the situation of Jack and Jill, the following questions are just a few of each category that can be asked:

1.) Interpersonal Questions:
Who are Jack and Jill? What is their relationship? Did they know each other before this event? Did they go up the hill together? Did one follow the other? Did they meet on top of the hill or decide to take this route together? How did this event affect their relationship–did it help develop their friendship/relationship or was it the cause of its demise?
2.) Practicality Questions:
What did they need water for? Why was the water up the hill?
Why did Jack fall? Did it have to do with his pail? Or the water? Or Jill? Were they successful in getting water first? What happened to the pail of water?
3.) Motive Questions:
Was Jack’s fall an accident? Where did he fall? How did his crown get broken? Was it as result of his fall?
4.) Integral Questions:
Why did Jill fall? What or who caused her to tumble? Was it the same reason Jack fell?
Why did they fall near the same place … or did they? Did Jill get hurt? If not, why didn’t she? If so, why isn’t it mentioned? How badly was he hurt? What happened to the pail of water?

From this far from exhausted list of questions even regarding this simple nursery rhyme, the writer can develop a sequence of events that surrounds and answers (or attempts to answer) one or more of the questions raised.

The type of question he attempts to answer in his writing can often determine the type of writing he will produce and often the length of the number as well.

Romance writing tends to be very interpersonal, so the questions focused upon are often interpersonal- and motive-related.

Drama writing is a broad category that tackles just one or a few of the questions in each category.

Mystery is most-often focused around motive and integral.

Historical writing is often found developing numerous answers to practical questions
In the same way, the number of questions he answers will determine the depth and the “sub-plots” he will address. The quality and depth of his question will also affect the quality and depth of his writing, for his answer can only respond to the issues he himself has raised.

Although these are the rule, the beauty of writing and the mind of the writer, is that anything, even those things that are against all rules of writing, can be allowed if correctly developed to answer questions raised and develop a product that accomplishes what it sets out to do. (In fact, writing that obeys every writing “rule” but does not accomplish what it set out to do will fail every time amongst the public, whereas writing that breaks traditional rules in order to accomplish its goals will find its place amongst the classics. This, however, is not meant to indicate that breaking other rules–ie. scientific rules, etc–in order to accomplish your goal is recommended or advised.)

The process of answering the questions raised by the inquisitive mind of the writer can be addressed simultaneously with a compounded solution, in a specific order with a chronological solving of the developed mysteries, or with a chain-of-events system, at which time the answering of one question attempts to raise an additional question that will be answered and so on, thus propelling movement forward. Again, the choice of the writer will determine the speed, development, depth, and specificity of the writing he is producing. (With that understanding, a story with numerous sub-plots is most easily understood as a writing with numerous unanswered questions, the answering order of which seem to have no apparent reason to the reader.)

In choosing the questions he will answer, the writer will not only be compelled to answer the traditional questions in writing:


but also required to answer addition queries as to …

Why him/her? (Why who?)
Why that event? (Why what?)
Why there? (Why where?)
Why then? (Why when?)

Although the development of these questions seems redundant to the average thinker, the complex mind of the writer must answer the traditional questions in a variety of ways in order to develop a concept that tells the greatest, most-intriguing story of all.

For example, in our Jack and Jill story, one might choose to answer the most simple of the Interpersonal Questions in a variety of ways:

Who are Jack and Jill?

Simple Explanation:
Two locals, friends, spouses, perhaps even brother and sister
Deeper Explanation:
Strangers, unaware of the other’s existence, seemingly connected by this single event

The wide difference variance between the two options shows a wide range of character developments. In the first option, the character development is perhaps more simple as the connection between the two individuals are more concrete, more common, more easily understood, and more easily overlooked. That can be used to the writer’s advantage in order to present mystery around the assumed (the assumption that the relationship is merely a building block in the greater developing story) or to do just as one might assume and merely present facts in order to propel the mind of the reader onto other questions and greater mystery.

The latter, deeper explanation of the identities of our main characters automatically offers the character development as a probable main focus for the reader’s attention. The lack of familiarity with what is commonly understood or assumed by the reader opens up numerous questions to be developed throughout the writing and act as a single sub-plot or perhaps the entire main plot of the story itself.

From here, depending on the answer decided upon by the writer as to the explanation for the first question, the writer is left to either develop one question and find its answer, develop that one sub-area while opening additional questions, or move along from the more simple option of the assumed to one or more additional questions that meet his fancy.

It is because of this unending variable of questions and combinations, that the total of possible stories will never reach its sum. Unlike the much-loved, create-your-own-ending story, where the reader is offered points of choice-making as a writer would make on behalf of characters within a tale, the writer not only determined the innumerable choices the characters make, but also the results of those choices, the surrounding events and characters, the driving forces (which are always deep and plural in number), the history behind such events, and the development, both personal and interpersonal which every character encounters.

So, the next time you pick up a new book or article, read a poem, or flip through the channels of the television, or play a DVD, let your own mind wander to that of the writer and allow questions to take over. Here are a few questions to get you started:

What other questions could be asked?
Where could you build off this story?
What questions did he ask that he failed to answer?
What question would have been a better plot option?
What was significant about that question that the writer chose to showcase it?
What was he trying to communicate by dealing with that question?

Welcome to my mind. 🙂
Try this question-asking and let me know how it goes.

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