Skip to main content

Asking Questions

There are times when I'm writing, at just about any stage of the process, from outlining to revision, where I will find myself in a tough place. I won't quite know what's wrong, but I do know that moving forward with any sense of momentum is difficult.

I've found a pretty fast and simple way to get me out of these situations: by asking questions.

It's really as simple as that.

I don't ask these questions out loud or anything, or even in front of other people, unless I'm bringing in a collaborator or a sounding board to help. No, what I use is my notebook. It's amazing how liberating it can feel to get off of my computer, pull out my pen, and put ink on paper.

I'll ask myself all sorts of questions, and the act of asking the questions forces me to rationalize answers.

Here are some examples from my notebook, scrubbed of pertinent details:
"Why is this person afraid?"
"What secret is being kept here?" 
"Why didn't they do this three scenes ago?" 
"Was she a veteran? Or a neophyte? How does that decision affect the story later? Which is more interesting?"
Sometimes the answers are apparent and lead to a lot of work. "Why didn't they do this three scenes ago?" helped me realize that the reason I was having a problem with the scene was because all of the information made more sense coming sooner. I was able to cut the scene and fold in the information and rationalizations earlier.

But when I was right up against it, toiling away on the manuscript itself, it just wasn't coming to me. But switching the medium of my thoughts and asking myself direct questions in a loose, free-form conversation format made it all seem instantly apparent. It's a technique I recommend to anyone looking for a way through that next stumbling block in your writing.

Obviously, the questions I noted above are from my current revision process, but it works at all other phases as well. Think about questions you can ask during the outlining phase.
"Are my characters driving the action? Or is the action driving them?"
 "Half the population is female, is half the population of this story?" 
"Is this authentic?"
I've made it through many difficult scenes in the drafting phase, only through the force of my question answering. It happens to all of us. We'll be in the middle of a tough chapter and sit back and ask ourselves why we even have this chapter. That's when I'll pull back and ask myself questions like this:
"Is this going to be relevant to the ending of the story?" 
"Is this scene accomplishing enough?" 
"Am I writing toward the theme?"  
"How do the actions my lead take in this scene make the next scene inevitable?" 
"Does it make it so inevitable that I can just skip it?"
 Sometimes, writing down elaborate and detailed answers to these questions will help me find the key I need to finish the scene and with an enthusiasm I'd previously lost. Or it will help me find things to include in the scene to help it do more than just one thing, adding layers to it. It's a good way for me to pull back and gauge the effectiveness of what I'm doing.

Try it. See how it works for you.

Ask yourself questions. Constantly. Ask them about your characters. About your stories. About every aspect of your writing.

And isn't that all writing is all about? Asking yourself questions? Granted, those questions that kick off stories usually start with, "What if...?" but you get the idea.


As far as my writing, I'm in the revision process on one project and outlining a couple of other projects to get moving on.

My latest for Salt Lake City Weekly is about actors reprising roles that were defined by other, more iconic actors. It was a fun piece. It's called Double Vision.

As for events, I'll be at FanCon this weekend at the Southwest Branch of the Weber County Library. I'll be giving a talk about Star Wars and signing books. So be there. More information here.

In the middle of June, I'll be at Origins Gamefair teaching classes about writing.


As a reminder: The Aeronaut and Escape Vector are still out and still need your purchases and reviews. If nothing else, they can use you telling people about them. If you want signed copies, visit the shop here on this page.

As far as my work outside of all this: There's a lot of great stuff on Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith for you. 

And please, please, please don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Art and Politics

Art is inherently political.

Let's just get that out of the way. We all have things we want to say (or things we want to not say) in our personal lives that shape the art we make. And artists, more often than not, are trying to say something with their art, even if their goal is to not say something.

There is no doubt that this has been a turbulent week in the country I live in. There are many of us that are confused and shocked and afraid of what might be to come in the future. That's understandable. As artists and writers, I feel like we're typically more empathetic than the general population. It's easy to think about what it's like to be in someone else's shoes because we spend so much of our creative time almost literally in someone else's shoes. And we need to pass that understanding on to our readers or viewers or however else they're consuming this art.

I've seen this troubling idea, though, that art needs to be purely for escape and that p…

Anatomy of a Scene - City Lights

We're going to break down another scene this week, and it's one of my favorites in cinema history. It comes from the ending of City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, which I think is the greatest romantic comedy ever made. 
It's a touching film from 1931 and I would make it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to learn to tell a story.
The scene we're going to be breaking down comes from the very end of the film, so if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go watch the film. You can rent it for $3.99 in HD on Amazon or for free on Hulu with a free trial or plus subscription. You should just buy the Blu-ray, though. You're going to want to revisit it.
For those of you familiar with the movie, or for those of you who are going to ignore my pleas to watch it and go ahead with this post anyway, I'm going to set this clip up a bit before you watch it.
City Lights tells the story of Chaplin's Tramp and how he falls in love with a blind flower …

Salt Lake Comic Con 2016 Schedule

It's time again for Salt Lake Comic Con and I have another packed schedule. This is where I'll be occupied for much of my weekend. I would love for you to come out, see me on a panel, catch me at my signing, or just say hello.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

3:00 pm Fixing Fandom and Ending Bullying and Gatekeeping :: 150G

4:00 pm Fauxthentic History - Star Trek :: 151G

6:00 pm Star Wars Trailer Park :: 151G

8:00 pm The Life and Times of Ahsoka Tano :: 151G

Friday, September 2, 2016

12:00 pm Palpatine's Rise: The Cautionary Tale of the Star Wars Prequels :: 255C

1:00 pm Star Wars: The Life and Times of Han Solo :: 251A

3:00 pm Jeremy Bulloch :: 250A

5:00 pm Stuff You Missed in History Class Live: How Does Historical Fiction Get Made? :: 250A

6:00 pm Bryan Young Signing :: Shadow Mountain - Booth 1807

7:00 pm Adventures in Podcasting :: 251A

8:00 pm What is the Balance of the Force? :: 255F

Saturday, September 2, 2016

11:00 am Famke Janssen :: Grand Ballroom

12:00 pm The Many Fac…