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The Driving Question: Getting Behind the Wheel of the Story
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a writing webinar
led by Beth Vogt, author of Catch a
Falling Star. The webinar was sponsored by American Christian Fiction
Writers (ACFW). I appreciate these opportunities because through them I learn
more about the craft of writing. The topic for this webinar was about building the story question.
I want share with you what I learned by trying to apply it
to my newest work in progress.
Beth shared that the three big questions every author should
be able to answer about a manuscript include:
1. What is your story
2. Why should anyone
pick up your novel and read it?
3. What is your story
I can vouch for the validity of the first two. If you sit
down with an agent, publisher, or editor, you need to grab their attention with
a well-crafted answer as to what the story is about and why anyone cares!
The third question
separates the novice from the novelist. This is question I want to examine
To get to that question, Beth Vogt says each author must address
these four questions before putting pen to paper:
1. Why does your story matter to you?
2. What is your story’s theme?
3. What is your hero or heroine learning about the theme?
4. What do you want to say about the theme through your
Let’s start with the first question. Beth says that if the
story doesn’t matter to the author, why should it matter to the reader? There’s
truth in that. It’s part of why I tend to stay away from formulaic novels…both
as a reader and a writer. They can be entertaining, but lack depth. Now I see
it is because the author probably was more interested in “cranking out” a story
that worked or would sell than he or she was in telling a compelling story that
would make you think about an external phenomenon or examine your own heart.
So why does the story
for my current Work in Progress (WIP) matter to me? By the way, though I
have a longer title, I refer to this work as Quiet. The seed for this
story evolved out of a conversation I had with a dear friend. She was a country
girl who fell in love with a city boy while he was visiting his country
cousins. I grew up in a farm community. I appreciate what that lifestyle has to
offer. But part of why this story matters to me is rooted in the second
question regarding theme.
What is your story’s
theme? Themes are usually summed up by single words. For Breathing on Her Own, I identified forgiveness and restoration as
themes. For this current WIP, I see a theme of selfishness vs. selflessness.
Forgiveness is also prevalent, but I am passionate about the notion that all
wrongdoing and evil, sin and suffering and much of our pain is brought on by
self-centeredness. “I deserve…” or “I want..” or “I don’t care…”
This leads to the
third question. What is your hero or heroine learning about the theme? What is he learning about himself? What is he
learning about the harmful effects of self-centeredness? And what about her?
She appears to be a caring and loving person. But is she? I mean she wants to
do things her way. She wants to follow a career path of her own making and
along the way is disrespectful to her parents because of it. What will she
learn about giving of herself?
The final question posed by Ms. Vogt is this: What do you want to say about the theme
through your characters? My characters can see faults in others before they
can see them in themselves. Sounds familiar. Oh but surely I would NEVER be
like that! (Insert sarcastic chuckle here.) I want my characters to grow and to
expose the notion of living a life where caring more about “Number 1” is
diminished. I want my readers to relate. I
want to see behaviors modified, attitudes revised, and lives changed.
So now that we’ve addressed the preliminaries, let’s see if
I can answer the three big questions posed at the start for this WIP.
1. What is your story about?
A. Quiet is about a city boy, a country girl—the potential love and the real
evil that threatens to change their lives forever.
2. Why should anyone pick up your novel and read it?
A. Readers will get
both romance and suspense underscored by the notion of how self-centeredness
threatens more than our relationship with the one we love.
3. What is your novel’s big question?
A. What would you be
willing to give up for love?
There you have it: A sort of worksheet to guide me through the
writing of this book. I know it may be refined over time, but for now, I’ll do
as Beth Vogt instructed. I’ll tape the big question on the wall above my
computer and let the words help me keep the WIP moving forward.
Beth Vogt serves on the leadership team for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by Susan May Warren. My Book Therapy is where Beth first learned about Story Question.
Want more? Go to www.BethVogt.com
and click on the tab marked “For Writers.” While you’re there, check out Beth’s
I'm anxious to hear what you think about the story question. Be sure to leave your comments below.
And now for a bit of accountability:
My word count for the Quiet is 18,759
as of this morning.