Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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 about?
2. Why should anyone pick up your novel and read it?
3. What is your story question?

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 today.

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 characters?

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 and click on the tab marked “For Writers.” While you’re there, check out Beth’s books.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your comments here. I look forward to hearing from you.