Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Q is for Questions: Keep MG Readers Hooked

You probably ask yourself all kinds of questions as you develop and write your story. You might ask questions about:

Characters, to get to know them better (e.g. What does he look like? What does like to do for fun? What are his nervous habits?)

Wants, to develop motivation (e.g. What does the villain really want? Why does he need to stop the main character?)

Events and reactions, to develop plot (e.g. How does the reader want this to be solved? What else could happen?)

Something to keep in mind as you write is that readers ask questions too. You need to nurture that curiosity, both on a smaller, scene by scene scale and on a larger, whole book scale. The questions that pop into a reader’s mind keep them hooked on your story.

Big picture questions. Your story problem will generate questions for your reader that won’t be answered until they read the whole book, e.g.“Will the MC get what she wants/find a solution to that huge problem?”

In the moment questions. Other smaller questions emerge as stepping stones to keep the reader moving towards the solution, such as “How will the character get out of this situation?” Scenes that make the reader wonder, even about something small, can help to keep the reader interested.

These smaller questions often get answered in the next scene or next chapter, but the answers don’t need to be too obvious or easy. You want your reader to think, “Now what?” and make guesses about what might happen next before they find out what really does happen.

One way to know if a scene is working is to think about the kinds of questions that might come to mind as a reader. If there's nothing to wonder about, maybe the scene needs to be cut or revised.

Do you think about the questions a reader might have as they read?

*As always, if you know of any other useful links on this topic, let me know so I can add them to the list.

Janice Hardy discusses the importance of considering “why” as well as “what” in creating a story.

A.J. Hartley at Magical Words blogs about big questions that extend beyond the book.

Over at Cheryl's Musings, Cheryl Reifsnyder has an extensive list of questions you can ask yourself when creating villains.


  1. Love this, especially the part about revising/cutting if your scenes don't bring up any questions! Thanks for the links as well :)

  2. Great post. I just read the book The Kitchen House. It created questions on every page. The story is sad and makes you angry at times but you couldn't put the book down because more questions kept coming. And where there is unanswered questions, there is tension.

  3. Terrific info. I'll definitely use this approach--asking myself what the reader (or main character) is wondering in the scene. It's a powerful tool for identifying places where there's not enough mystery. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I think you need to constantly be bringing up new questions and problems and then answering or solving some of them as you go along, in order to keep the reader's interest. I don't like books that don't give you ANY answers until the big reveal at the end.

    Personally I look at each chapter or scene as a mini-story of its own, with problems or questions arising and a resolution of some sort at the end, even if that is then a cliff-hanger that leads to a new problem.

  5. It's great to hear your thoughts on this topic!

    Girl Friday, I think you make a great point about the need to have some solutions as you go along, otherwise the reader might get frustrated, or you could also lose some credibility with the reader, because of the unnaturalness of the situation.


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