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Friday, June 28, 2013

Balancing Questions and Answers

I'm working on the second draft of my manuscript, and this last week I hit a point where I realized I was making my reader ask too many questions too soon. Some questions are good--they make the reader want to keep reading. Too many questions equals confusion, which was the direction my novel was going.


I love mystery, so while I'm writing fantasy, I'm also incorporating a lot of mystery, dropping hints and clues along the plot line and making the reader wonder and speculate.

But too many questions too fast makes it difficult for readers to follow the plot. They can't keep track of what is going on. They can't even keep track of everything they should be wondering about.

Here are some ways to solve that problem if you find yourself in a similar situation:

  1. Answer some of the readers' questions. Provide more information before making them ask more questions. This might mean pushing answers toward the front of your story and moving other questions back.
  2. Eliminate questions. Are you trying to make too many things into a mystery? Tweak how you are presenting the info to your reader. Don't make them wonder. Tell them the info straight out and tell them as soon as possible.
  3. Let your characters question less and wonder less. The more your characters are wondering on paper, the more conscious your reader is of all the unsolved questions and mysteries. If you find that you are giving your reader too many questions, try changing your characters' response to them. Instead of having your heroine speculate, have her come to a conclusion (hopefully a wrong one) based on the info she has. Then let her be convinced that she's right.
  4. Connect your questions so that they really form one big question. Create an umbrella question. That way your reader won't be stuck with a dozen different, unrelated questions. So instead of wondering "How did the bomb get passed security?" "Whose spying on the protagonist?" and "Are George and Jasper really working together to commit murder?" You make the reader ask, "What is organization X up to?" (since organization X is involved in all of these situations.) Tie questions together.

For me, I used a combination of three and four. Instead of having my protagonist sitting around speculating, I made him come to a conclusion (that's partially wrong) that connects all of his questions. And he's convinced he's right. 

It made the story shape more interesting and actually helped me discover a whole new facet of my protagonist--one that I hadn't considered, but yet fit his character perfectly.

I've also used techniques one and two in the past. I might need to use them still. I'll decide when I get to draft three.

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4 comments:

  1. I have been having issues with my own novel, asking too many questions at once to the point that it got confusing. Editing has done wonders and things are spaced out much better now.

    Wonderful advice! As always! <3

    And thank you, thank you, thank you, for the kind words!! <3

    ~KonstanzS

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  2. I love how this is simple, straightforward, and makes sense. I definitely need to use number 3. Having them come to a conclusion at least shows that they are thinking about the problem rather than oblivious to it.

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  3. Had to bookmark this post because it's totally spot on!

    Thanks for joining my site! I gave you a Shout-Out there today. :)

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  4. Your suggestion for number three really hits the nail on the head. I'm currently utilizing that tactic is how I'm managing my current book about a kid raised on his dad's compound during an alien invasion. He questions very little, and the questions are good. He just incrementally finds out that everything he was taught was a lie. I feel that this is a good way to raise some suspense. Great post!

    Peter
    www.debelit.com

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