Fiction Writing Made Easy

#112: 5 Questions Your Reader Shouldn't Have To Ask

October 17, 2023 Savannah Gilbo Episode 112
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#112: 5 Questions Your Reader Shouldn't Have To Ask
Fiction Writing Made Easy +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

You need to get readers asking questions to hook them into your story, but you don’t want them asking the wrong questions or being so confused that they stop reading altogether. In this episode, I share 5 questions your readers should never have to ask—here's a preview of what's included:

[01:58] Who is this person?
[03:35] Where is the scene taking place?
[04:50] Who else is in the scene?
[06:15] What's the point of this?
[07:55] Why should I care?
[10:25] Final thoughts and episode recap

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Want to write a novel but not sure where to start? Click here to grab a FREE copy of my Story Starter Kit workbook that'll help you get clarity on your characters, setting, theme, plot, and so much more!

Support the show

If you enjoyed this episode of the Fiction Writing Made Easy Podcast, please rate, review, and follow this show!

Follow me on Instagram @savannah.gilbo

Speaker 1:

This is what's going to drive your scene forward. It's what's going to give birth to the concrete questions that you want readers asking throughout each scene and throughout your overarching story. And if you've structured your scenes correctly, your point of view character will have made a choice in the previous scene that resulted in the consequences they now must act on. So you might already know your character's initial scene goal, based on the work you did in the previous scene. Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So, whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started. In today's episode, we're going to talk about the five questions your reader shouldn't have to ask, both the start of your story and at the beginning of each one of your scenes, and I wanted to do an episode on this because I've been seeing a lot of drafts lately where the author is creating false suspense rather than raising meaningful questions in the reader's mind. So, instead of getting readers curious about specific things that matter, I see writers withholding basic information from the readers in an effort to pique their curiosity, and that just doesn't work. So, although the intention is good, it's the execution that isn't quite working. Now, I say the intention is good because you do need to get readers asking questions, to hook them into your story or into each one of your scenes. When they ask questions, they're going to read forward to find out the answers, right, but you don't want them asking the wrong type of questions or being so confused that they stop reading altogether. So that's what today's episode is about.

Speaker 1:

We're going to talk through the five questions your reader should never have to ask at any point in your story. So let's dive right in. The first question your reader should never have to ask is who is this person? Readers should understand who the point of view character is in every single scene as soon as possible, and that's just because if the reader doesn't know who they're reading about, they're not going to be able to engage in what happens to that person. Now, this doesn't mean that you need to spell out every character's age or physical description or entire backstory right away, but readers do need to know who they're reading about at any given moment. So make sure the point of view character is crystal clear at the start of each new scene and at the start of your story. And then in terms of a character's appearance and backstory in some stories you can get away without ever mentioning a thing about your character's appearance, but most readers like a few hints about what a character looks like, especially if it's relevant to the story.

Speaker 1:

That being said, it's always a good idea to look for some kind of character hook to help flesh your characters out and to keep them clear in readers' mind. This could be something like an occupation, a prominent personality trait, a defining action or anything like that. I did a whole episode about character hooks it's episode number 10, and I will link to that in the show notes for easy access. And then, in terms of backstory, you'll just want to make sure that you're only giving readers what's relevant in the present moment. So readers don't need a whole download about everything that has happened to your character up until this point, but they do need just enough to understand what's happening in any given scene or any given moment. So that's the first thing readers should never have to ask at any point in your story. They should never have to ask who the point of view character is. It should always be crystal clear.

Speaker 1:

The second thing readers should never have to ask is where and when is the scene or story taking place? So at any given time, readers should know where and when they are in the story. So, for example, is the scene they're currently reading taking place immediately after the previous scene, or has the location and time changed? So how much time has passed since the previous scene or since we were last? In that point of view character's perspective, is it right after the previous scene or is it now, five months later? Whatever the case is, you'll want to make sure that the time and location is clear as soon as possible in every scene, ideally in the first paragraph of every scene. This is important because the goal of fiction is to keep readers immersed in a story right, and when readers don't have the context they need, they will disengage from what's happening in the story and get pulled back into their own reality, which, again, is not what we want. The other thing to consider is your overarching story timeline. So if you have any kind of ticking clock element or a story where dates and times matter like, let's say, you're writing a thriller or a mystery where dates and times actually serve as clues, you'll just want to be aware of this and make sure to communicate it to your readers as soon as you can. So that's the second thing. A reader should never have to ask where and when is the scene they're currently reading taking place. The third thing a reader should never have to ask is who else is in this scene or who is the point of view character interacting with. So if other characters are present in a scene, you'll want to give readers a little help by naming them. Don't leave it vague only using pronouns. Pronouns don't give readers much to work with, especially the first time they're introduced to a character, whether that's in a scene or in the bigger story. I read drafts where writers rely on pronouns too much when a new character is introduced.

Speaker 1:

So, for example, imagine a protagonist is walking through a crowd and we're in her point of view, and the text says she spots him walking towards her. There's zero context for who the guy is in this scenario and because of that, readers won't know how to feel. So should we be worried for the protagonist? Should we feel excited that this person's approaching her, or should we feel something else? Now, with a few exceptions, readers should know everything that the narrating character does. So they should know everything the point of view character knows, of course, with a few exceptions, unless the other characters in a scene are strangers to the protagonist.

Speaker 1:

You will want to fill readers in on how the narrator knows these people and what they're doing with them in this scene. Again, this doesn't mean you need to include a ton of backstory or a ton of context, but my point is that it shouldn't be something that readers are confused about. So that's the third question that readers should never have to ask who is the point of view character interacting with in this scene? The fourth question that readers should never have to ask is what's the point of this? So, in every scene, readers should understand what the point of view character is trying to do or accomplish. This is what's going to drive your scene forward. It's what's going to give birth to the concrete questions that you want readers asking throughout each scene and throughout your overarching story, and, if you've structured your scenes correctly, your point of view character will have made a choice in the previous scene that resulted in the consequences they now must act on. So you might already know your character's initial scene goal, based on the work you did in the previous scene. There are, of course, caveats to this, but for the most part you should be following the same central thread from scene to scene.

Speaker 1:

Now, sometimes a character's goal and motivation in a scene are obvious. So, for example, let's say that in the last scene a character is trying to escape a crime scene unnoticed, but someone sees them and pursues them on foot. In the next scene it might be obvious that their goal is to escape whoever is pursuing them. Right, but other times it's not going to be as obvious. And no matter what, you will always want to make it clear for the reader. Either way, you do want to make sure that your point of view character's initial scene goal is explicitly put on the page within the first few paragraphs of a new scene, so that the reader knows what to care about and so that they have context for the rest of the scene. And then you'll want to make sure that your point of view character has enough agency to actually go after their goals.

Speaker 1:

If the readers don't have this information at the start of a scene, it's going to be hard for them to feel fully immersed and engaged and they might put the story down, which is not what we want. So that's the fourth thing a reader should never have to ask. They should never be reading a page in your story and be thinking what is the point of this? We don't want them thinking that. And finally, the fifth question a reader should never have to ask is why should I care about this? And this is the key when it comes to engaging readers and getting them to keep turning the page.

Speaker 1:

You need to give readers a reason to care about finding out what happens to your characters, and you'll do this by making sure your character has a goal, like we just talked about, as well as something to lose or gain if they succeed or fail in accomplishing that goal. So, in other words, there must be concrete stakes in your overarching story and in each one of your scenes. Whether those stakes create curiosity about how something will turn out, or more of an emotional investment, like concern or sympathy, you do need to supply readers with a personal reason to care about finding out what's going to happen. Ideally, each scene in your story should present your character with two options that both carry equal weight. So, for a really easy example, consider being given a choice between going to Disneyland or going to Knott's Berry Farm. They're both theme parks and they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Speaker 1:

Right Now, imagine you only have the time and or the budget to go one before they close for the season and you like going to both theme parks equally. So in this scenario, the stakes are that by choosing one theme park to visit, you're giving up the chance to visit the other. So you win because you get to visit one, but you lose because you don't get to visit the other. I know that's kind of a simple example, but consider how something like this can play out in each scene in your story. And, to take it a step further, imagine if the choice between theme parks was rooted in a character's emotional journey or, you know, gave them the potential to emotionally grow and change. So, for example, let's say that this is their last chance to visit Disneyland and imagine that Disneyland was the last place they saw their dad, who abandoned them when they were five. So a trip to Disneyland might represent something a lot more significant than just choosing one theme park over another right. But on the flip side of this, if the character picked Going to Knott's Berry Farm, this could be an easier choice on one hand because they won't have to face their past right, but it's going to be harder for them in the long run because they're not facing that significant moment from their past. So anyway, I know I just went on a tangent about that, but I hope it helps illustrate the point.

Speaker 1:

Readers need to have a reason to care about what's happening and to give them one, you're going to want to make sure your character has a concrete goal and faces concrete stakes within each scene and within your overarching story. Now I know we just went over a lot, so let me quickly recap the five questions your readers should never have to ask. Question number one is who is this person I'm reading about? So again, readers need to understand who the point of view character is in any given scene as quickly as possible. Question number two is where and when is this scene taking place? Readers should never have to guess and ideally we would give them this information in the first few paragraphs of a new scene.

Speaker 1:

The third question readers should never have to ask is who is this character interacting with? So who else is in the scene? And remember, unless the other characters in the scene are strangers to the protagonist, you will want to fill readers in on how the point of view character knows the people that they're interacting with in the scene. Question number four is what's the point? So readers should never be asking what's the point of anything they're reading. They should understand your character's overarching story goal, as well as how each scene fits into the overarching story. And finally, question number five that a reader should never have to ask is why should I care about this? So, again, we do want to make sure that the point of view character's goal is crystal clear. We want readers to understand why they're going after something. So what is their motivation? And then, what's at stake should they succeed or fail? And if you've given readers the answer to these five questions without info dumping at the beginning of each scene, that's what's going to allow readers to feel fully immersed in your story and it's what's going to give them the freedom to focus on the questions in your story that really matter. So keep these five questions in mind as you're writing your draft and especially when you're going back to edit your draft, to make sure you've addressed them and given the reader enough context in each one of your scenes. So that's it for today's episode.

Speaker 1:

As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Who is this person?
Where is the scene taking place?
Who else is in this scene?
What's the point of this?
Why should I care?
Episode Recap