Peggy Bechko: The Writer’s Questions

by Peggy Bechko

i-love-mystery-tvwriter.comI’ve been a writer for some years now and published frequently and I can remember clearly writing entire scenes and describing little or nothing, not pinning down a character’s character and more distracting missteps.

Questions create a story and if you, as a writer, don’t answer those questions you’ll lose your readers. “What if…” is a big question. So is “What would someone do if”… or “if the world was a much different place in these ways, what would happen…”

Questions, so many questions, but isn’t that our nature, to want to unravel ‘mysteries’?

There are many questions big and small that arise when the writer is writing. And writing (any story, whether screen script, novel, or short story) is a tricky business.

So, here are some of the “big” questions.

Where is your scene taking place? Right, should be a ‘duh’ question, but so many times the writer knows very well where the scene is taking place, he or she can see it clearly in mind’s eye, but surprise, your reader can’t read your mind. How about a hint; just a touch of where things are happening, maybe from the protagonist’s point of view. And just because you tell us it’s a subway platform, don’t leave out the other senses. What does it smell and sound like? Is it day or night? Busy or not so much? Are we in present time, or another time altogether?

Another question – are you making it plain how much time is passing in your story? Is it minutes? Hours? Days? Years? Don’t confuse the hapless reader.

What’s going on with your character? This relates a bit to the guest post I did for TV Writer on Writing Action recently. Seriously, your characters need to react. Whether in novel or in screen script. If somebody gets a ‘dear John’ letter she needs to react. If another somebody gets in a car wreck he doesn’t ‘think about his situation’ he feels pain or confusion or both or more. The character may have to force himself to think logically after such an incident, but there’ll be ‘stuff’ going on along with it. Reactions are how you explore character and let the reader in on the character’s idiosyncrasies.

Sometimes, when you’re hot, writing fast, you don’t really focus on this one, but it needs to be addressed. What is the point of your scene? Sometimes an author is wrapped up in a really cool scene idea, perhaps something he or she has experienced and wants to get that scene down on paper to the point that a scene is written that really has no point relating to the story at hand. Many times this isn’t even caught until editing, but caught it must be. A scene needs to have a point whether it relates to character or plot. Don’t just stick something in, or leave it in, because it’s some of our coolest writing. If you love it, save it, it may actually work in another book or script, but don’t leave it where it doesn’t belong.

Now here’s a biggie I’ve seen get lost in the shuffle. What is the goal of the story’s main character? From there is where your story hangs. Your reader is breezing through those first sentences looking for exactly that – the character’s goal. Said reader might not be aware that’s what’s happening, but it is. Whether that goal is attainable…or not…it needs to be there. Without said goal you don’t have a story, you just have a bunch of people running around doing things.

Questions, always questions. Keep asking them and your stories will bloom.