Story Stuff: Q Is For Questions

How many different Q posts there will be in the A-Z challenge? There are fewer available words – I’m not sure how many bloggers will pick up on quarters, quizzes, and queens – or in the case of writing, maybe a quest. Perhaps our queen quickly quests into a quagmire.


Damn. There are more possibilities than I thought.


Over here we’re talking about questions, specifically those inserted directly into the narrative to get the reader thinking. Author’s use them to “direct” the reader in a way, and in using deep POV, they offer glimpses into the character’s head. We ask ourselves questions all the time.

Where’s the ketchup?

Should I run the light?

Is this too expensive?

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Characters ask themselves questions too, and to avoid a filter, the author can have them “ask” in the narrative. For example:

With a filter: Joan wondered if the donuts were gone.

Without a filter: Joan crept up to the box. Were the donuts gone?

In searching my WIP for other examples, I discovered most of my questions occur in dialogue (as they should, with characters working together to figure things out). There are a few spots where they occur in the narrative, though, like this one, which occurs in Javier’s POV. For context, they’ve just crashed into a river after another vehicle ran them off the road.

“The GPS tracking was on. All you had to do was drive by a tower after they had your info.”

“Well in that case, I’m glad it’s toast. Wait, they’re heading for us. Play extra dead.”

Extra dead?

Liz gasped. “Geez, this water’s cold!”

This was the plan? Pretend the not-so-bad wreck had killed them both? “This isn’t going to work.”

“Shut up.”

So I obviously don’t mind seeing questions used as a device like this, but sometimes the author gets a little carried away, as in this example that I made up right now.

John scurried up the ladder. Was the cat on the roof? He peered over the hot shingles. There, in the corner. How did it get up here? And how would he get it down? Was he wearing the right shoes?

Even that example doesn’t bother me much, but if there are several in consecutive paragraphs, I sense the author is leading me too much. Like, “Ooh, don’t you wonder what will happen now, reader?? Heh heh.”

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So I would say like any other literary device, questions are useful but can be overdone.

What are your feelings about questions in the narrative? Useful tool or cheap ploy?

15 thoughts on “Story Stuff: Q Is For Questions

  1. Once you see questions as a cheap/shorthand way to advance a plot (as opposed to legit and necessary plot advancers) via spoonfeeding, you see it from then on – and spot it a LOT.

    I was watching The Thomas Crown Affair yesterday – the one with Pierce Brosnan. There’s an early scene between Dennis Leary, a cop, and Rene Russo, an insurance investigator, where he keeps asking questions and she answers – and it’s SUCH a cheap tactic. All tell and no show – i a movie??? They just wanna get through what would’ve been a backstory or something. Bad writing at its worst, done simply to explain a bunch of stuff we would never have known – unless they wrote it into the story somehow, like a real writer would!


    Hollywood exec: Just spoon feed all this to the audience with a quick conversation. Audiences are stupid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Q could have been Quirks – as in, give your character a nervous habit or something, and then make sure it’s consistent throughout the story. In The Navigators, Missy plays with her hair and is constantly brushing a strand away from here eyes.

    But you went with questions.

    I’d say it’s a good way to move the story along quickly and IF it’s a cheap tactic, great – use it as a stopgap measure and ask CPs or betas who don’t like it to come up with a better solution. After all, we got rid of was, didn’t we? So we can do this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Blogging From A to Z Challenge – Theme Reveal! | Allison Maruska

  4. “Useful tool or cheap ploy?” Dana questions why Allison would ask this? Does she think he doesn’t know the answer? Or, is she looking for engaging conversation?

    How will he answer? Will it be with a thought provoking response? Or, typical of him, a wise-ass one that says nothing? Will he leave it at that? Or go on and on like he had something important to say?

    Will these stupid question he poses ever stop?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Questions fall in the flavor category, like adverbs. LOL. A little, properly used to their greatest effect, can really do something for your writing. Overly used….well….questions can be the side walk on the road to hell paved with adverbs. LOL

    Liked by 2 people

  6. That raccoon freaks me out!

    I enjoy questions-within-narrative to prompt the reader into considering a certain point, and like you, I use them sparingly in that case.

    When using in dialogue, I tend to substitute one character for the reader. For example, in the TV series LOST, the character of Hurley is often a proxy for the viewer. He asks questions that the other characters don’t even seem to consider, and I see him as the voice of reason. He asks the questions I’m asking in my head. I like to do that sometimes in my own works, to use a “questioning” character to help explain why things might be happening (if it’s appropriate to the story). I also see this a lot in things like Star Trek, where a technical explanation is required (lest something be labelled a deus ex by canny viewers unwilling to suspend belief). In this case, one character will ask a question of a specialist in the field (science, medicine, security, whatever).

    I do see a use for the frantic use of multiple questions; to build a little tension and show a character becoming more hysterical over the unknowns of their situation. “Is that the President sitting in the audience? OMG, the President! What if I forget my lines? What if I trip? What if I have a wardrobe malfunction? Holy crap, the President!”

    And so on and so forth. That’s not something I do often, but I like it for showing a little internal desperation when the need arises.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great point about showing excitement/desperation. I totally agree.

      And oh my god, your comment sparked the funniest memory. When I was in high school my chemistry teacher had an invisible “proxy” student who would ask the stupid questions real students were afraid to ask. His name was Timmy.


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