Narrative Writing

 

The Story Question

The core issue in any story is always the same: "Will this focal character defeat his opponent, overcome his private danger, and win happiness?" Your reader gets maximum tension release from the resolution if this question is framed in such a way that it can be answered with a clear-cut "yes" or "no".

               — Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer

Every good story has a story question. And every story question is basically the same: Will the hero succeed in achieving his objective?

The exact nature of the question might vary from page to page. On the first page, the question might be:

And by the end of the story, the central question may have morphed into:

And there may be many "smaller" question in between. But every page must have an unanswered question—something that keeps the reader turning the pages. And—as Swain points out in the opening quote—the simpler the question, the better.

Here are some typical story questions:


Having already written your hero's objective, writing your story question should be fairly easy.

Study the following examples. The story questions have been highlighted.

Bernard Stanley is a shy baker. His wife died five years ago, and now he is terribly lonely. He wants to ask one of his regular customers out on a date. The woman's father wants her to marry someone rich. Her father arranges a marriage between her and a rich banker. Will Bernard succeed in winning the love of the only woman who can make him happy?

Sonja Simmons is an adventurous college student. While hiking in the wilderness, she discovers a mountain cave. She wants to explore the cave. Inside the cave she finds a hideous troll. The troll chains her up and refuses to let her leave. Will Sonja succeed in escaping from the cave?

Mario Lynch is a grumpy detective. One day, a client hires him to investigate a gruesome murder. He wants to solve the case. The murderer will do anything to avoid going to jail. The murderer plans to kill Detective Lynch. Can Mario solve the case before the murderer strikes again?

Now it's your turn: What is your story question?

Lesson Steps

  1. Open your writing portfolio.
    • Level 16
      • The Six Story Elements
  2. Complete row 6 of the table. What is your story question?

Your table should now look something like this:

The Six Story Elements
Complete the six story elements
1 Character Bernard Stanley is a shy baker.
2 Situation His wife died five years ago, and now he is unbearably lonely.
3 Objective He wants to ask one of his regular customers out on a date. Her name is Felicia.
4 Opponent Felicia's father wants her to marry someone rich; he will never agree to a marriage between his daughter and a lowly baker.
5 Disaster In fact, Felicia's father has already arranged a a marriage between Felicia and a rich gentleman.
6 Story Question Can Bernard win Felicia's heart and overcome the objections of her father before it's too late?

 

  1. When you are finished, return to this page and take the quiz.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.

Quiz