One of the first things I do when figuring out my next story, before even plot structure, is the story question. It’s the central topic the story is about and from it flows the plot and the theme and even the character arc.
Yes, it’s that important. So what exactly is a story question?
In the illuminating article How To Write a Story Question by Ramona DeFelice Long, https://ramonadef.com/2012/05/03/how-to-write-a-story-question/, she defines it: “The Story Question—sometimes called the Story Problem—is the core question to be answered in the story. Answering the Story Question is the goal of the primary plot line. It’s what drives the characters to act as they do. It’s the story’s catalyst–essentially, why the story exists.”
Even though the story may never actually appear in the story as a question, it does provide a goal for the protagonist and thus a path of action for them. You have that and you have the idea for a plot and can divine the themes and motifs that need to run throughout to enhance the reader’s experience. It can also help define the roles of your antagonist/love interest and your villain.
I like to define the story question and keep it at the top of the page as I work on the plot points. That keeps me from straying from the question, which I’m wont to do. If I find scenes that are not directly or indirectly flowing from the question, then I ask myself if that scene is really necessary and cut if the answer is “no.”
In the article, Ramona gives some potential story questions by genre:
For a mystery, a Story Question might be: “Who killed JR?”
For a thriller, a Story Question might be: “Who is trying to kill JR?” or “Why is Whoever trying to kill JR?”
For a romance, a Story Question might be: “Can JR overcome his emotional baggage and find love?”
For a romantic suspense, a Story Question might be: “How will JR survive this conflict while falling/staying in love?”
For a quest, a Story Question might be: “Can JR locate the last two legendary googoomama birds and save the species from extinction?”
For an adventure story, a Story Question might be: “Will JR and his young son survive a plane crash in the Sierra Nevada Mountains?”
For a women’s fiction novel, a Story Question might be: “Can JR save her drug-addicted sister without ruining her own life?”
For a middle grade novel, a Story Question might be: “Can JR befriend the mean girls without becoming one?”
For a YA novel, a Story Question might be: “Can JR pursue his musical talents despite his family’s disapproval?”
In my Zodiac Assassins’ series I even put the story question on the back cover of the book.
Lyon’s Roar: What Would You Sacrifice To Make Fate Your Bitch?
Leona’s Descent: What Would You Sacrifice To Rewrite A Moment In Time?
Libra’s Limbo: What Would You Sacrifice To Find True Balance?
Leona’s Cage: What Would You Sacrifice For Your Child?
Gemini Asunder: What Would You Sacrifice To Have A Life Of Your Own?
Abella All In: What Would You Sacrifice To Win?
Cancer’s Moon: What Would You Sacrifice To Find Your Place In The World?
Bryn’s Flight: What Would You Sacrifice For Your People?
I already have the story questions for my current WIP, Aries On Fire, and for the book I’m about to start plotting, Memoria Lost.
Planning a book is already hard enough. Consider creating your story question first and see if that helps keep your plot on track.
Do you start with a story question? Does it help you? Feel free to share some of your story questions!
May your words flow freely,
The Zodiac Assassins series
Available on Amazon Kindle and Print, Nook and Kobo
Lyon’s Roar – https://amzn.to/2IB
Leona’s Descent – https://amzn.to/2yaDfjW
Libra’s Limbo – https://amzn.to/2q3VkNg
Leona’s Cage – https://amzn.to/2QTbVyp
Gemini Asunder – https://amzn.to/2PyNUig