Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Great Book Discussion Questions

Book-club discussions are important to many readers, including me. I participate in online books discussions regularly through a mystery listserv, and sometimes I even led the discussion. So I have some experience in coming up with thought-provoking questions, and I’m finally getting around to writing discussion questions for my own novels.

Every novel has specific events and character actions that naturally seem ripe for discussion, so I included a few of those. (Do you believe the mayor’s version of what happened to Jessie? Why or why not?) Then there are the standard questions that work for almost any novel. (Did the setting enhance the plot or could the story have worked anywhere? What themes did the author weave into the story? Was the antagonist believable?)

My favorite questions go beyond specific settings or events:

Motivation. Any question that gets to the heart of a character’s motivation, especially to behave in a socially unacceptable way, will make for a lively discussion. (Jasmine shares privileged information with a reporter. Why? Claire says she stole the painting to protect it, but what were her real reasons?) I’ve discovered that readers bring their own experiences into a novel and often perceive things in characters that others don’t, even the author. It’s fascinating.

Fate. Questions that discuss the course of events and whether those events are inevitable will generate strong reactions from readers. (Did the young boy have to die in the end? Could the story have gone in another direction and still been effective?)

Does the story rely on a major or minor coincidence? Was it believable and did it work for you? Was the story plausible overall?

Values/beliefs. In what ways do the events and characters reveal the author's values or world view? What is the author trying to say about [insert hot-button topic here: women, race, sexuality, discrimination]? Did the story make you question any of your own beliefs?

As readers, what are some of your favorite book discussion issues?

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:

Bookmark and Share


  1. Thanks for the tips. Now I have to get invited by some book clubs so I can do the discussions.

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Very good ideas to start discussion, L.J. I'm not currently involved in any books clubs, but I will keep these suggestions for when I am.

    Straight From Hel

  3. Great tips for book club questions. I know some authors pubbed by the large NY houses include book club questions at the end of the book. This is a good resource for them.

  4. I loved the article--great reminders.

  5. Very interesting discussion starters. This could work well as part of a forum if you have a community of writers interested in discussing deeper issues like this.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...