Most stories start with a writer asking questions. A passing thought about a movie you saw. Wondering how the outcome would’ve changed if this or that had been the case. The questions and wonderings often lead to daydreaming about said character/plot. Pretty soon, that notebook or binder is on your desk (or in your bed) and the story starts coming together.
While we writers do tend to think of most everything (ahem), sometimes we forget the most basic questions and information we should be asking. In case you’re in that stage, here’s a short list of crucial questions a writer should ask when forming your story.
What if? This is often how a story idea begins. It can be a question of origin, situation, setting, etc. It also helps you determine the inciting incident of the story.
Examples: What if I was a pirate in medieval Europe? What if that homeless person was of royal descent?
Who? The most important part of my own stories revolves around the question of characters. The protagonist(s), antagonist(s), and side characters are what is going to make your story worthwhile for the reader. Answers to this question will shape your characters, from their name, to their personalities, to their fears, to their favorite color. The answers to these questions will get your readers engaged and connected to your characters.
Examples: Who are they? Where did they come from? Who are they related to? What happened in the past that shaped who they are today? What are their pet peeves?
What? This question shapes everything that happens in your plot. Think about what your protagonist wants, what your antagonist wants, what happens next… This question fuels your story and keeps the adventure going.
Examples: What is the problem? What is the end goal? What is their motivation?
Why? This explains the reason your story will continue. Without the why, who cares? This is also the link between your plot and your characters. Without this, your story will be flat and passive, and the story is rendered meaningless to your readers.
Examples: Why is the protagonist involved? Why do they care? Why should I care? Why is the antagonist evil? Why doesn’t the protagonist win right away?
How? The plot fill-in. Treat this question like the question of why, only now we know why we care. Now we must find out how we will care about what happens next. Now your can tell your readers the story because you’ve drawn them in and gotten them hooked. They don’t want to leave until they find out what happens.
Examples: How will the problem be solved? How do the characters develop? How will the solution affect the characters?
When? This can be incredibly important, especially when dealing with historical, futuristic, sci-fi, or fantasy. You don’t want to put your story in the mid-1900s and give them a cellphone, or a model-T in futuristic or sci-fi unless it’s as a novelty. Consistency is what this question will help you with as your develop your story. There is little in a book that is so annoying than for the timeline to contradict itself. Besides the timeline, you need to figure out what era your story is in, research it, and keep it consistent. You don’t want to be writing dialogue or voice for a character in the Victorian era and use words like “cool,” “rad,” “on fleek,” or even “on point.”
Examples: What is the time frame? When does each thing happen in the story? Does the timeline match up? Does the order of scenes make sense?
Where? Climate, weather, seasons, and even plants differ based on where you are. The things you describe in your setting must be in line with how it is in real life. You don’t want to be in Arkansas writing as if Colorado weather is the same, otherwise you will end up having a reader from Colorado who will correct you.
Examples: What is weather typically like? When do the seasons start to change? What was the record humidity/rainfall/dryness/temperature for that area? The average? Current?
Which of these do you tend to forget? Are there others that you use that you can’t live without asking? Let’s help each other in the comments!