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Eight Questions for Writers

Every story has an arc - a set up, obstacles for the main character to overcome, and a resolution.

Sometimes, I come across a novel from a client that has holes in one or all of these areas. There's not enough set up to get me into the story and the main character. There's not enough conflict in that vast middle of the story to make me care what happens to the main character. There's not enough of a resolution, and I'm left wondering, "Why did I read this?"

When these gaps are found within a story, I get into lecture mode and pose eight questions to the client:

1) Who is your main character (MC)?
2) What does the MC want?
3) What's the main conflict that keeps the MC from getting that want?
4) What's the event/situation that sets the MC in motion to achieve the want?
5) What are the obstacles the MC encounters, keeping him/her from the want? (Obstacles should escalate, building tension)
6) What's the event/situation that makes the MC go "All-or-Nothing" to win the want? (This is a moment in which there is no turning back)
7) Does the MC win or lose?
8) What's the effect of the win or loss on the MC?

I have the client develop an answer for each of these questions, and then we discuss what's missing from the story and how to apply some of these answers to the revising of the story.

The questions are asked in a traditional way, meaning they have a beginning, middle, ending flow to them. However, not all stories are traditional. Some start at the end, and then show the reader how that ending came to be.

The point is most, if not all, stories touch upon each of these questions, so it benefits you to do some prewriting of your story before you jump in, write, and call yourself being "done" with the story.

It will also benefit you to look at these questions after a story is done as a part of the self-editing process.

Editors are there to help writers better their story; however, writers should be working to better their craft and understand the editorial and story development process.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.


  1. Yes, I like those questions. That's a really good way of getting us to self-edit our work. Thank you for putting that forward as a helpful suggestion.
    Blessings, Star

  2. Great questions! I'm definitely going to put my MC to the test :)

  3. Thanks for the comments, :-) Thing is, I never really thought about the questions myself as a writer until my clients needed help developing their stories.

  4. I like the eight questions; they really make the writer think about the craft. We have to think about the craft and how it helps the story.

  5. Shon,
    Great article and I love the 8 questions. I might add one more just from my experiences:
    Do you like this main character?
    I have written short stories where I hated my main character and then realized later, if I hate the bum, why should anyone else care about him?
    So as much as I hated to do it, I had to go back and give the idiot(my main character)some redeemning quality, or find another character to write about so I could kill the bum off!

  6. LOL That's a great question to add, CD. All characters have to be multi-faceted, and to have an evil MC just for the sake of having one would be boring...AND irritating to tag along with throughout the course of a book or short story.

  7. This is a great post. I'm gonna answer these questions. I think it'll really help me out.

  8. Thanks for the questions, Shon. These are great.

  9. Thanks for the list.

    Lynnette Labelle

  10. Shon,

    Thanks for the post. As a new writer I find that I write to these questions without realizing it. Having them in a concrete form helps my process to be more understandable. Thanks again.

  11. Hey there, J. You know, I think most writers know about the components in these questions when they sit to write, but it's always good to have a reminder during that editing process, right? :-)

  12. Good post -- it struck me while reading that when I ghostwrite memoirs, my interview questions of my subjects (they would be my MCs) often fall right in line with your questions. Our real lives have an arc too, if you sift through the trivial events to the heart within.

  13. That's so true, Kim. I think that's part of the reason so many people want to share their stories: they have the elements that are found in fiction.

  14. Thank you so much! I created a doc with these questions and thier answers. I'm going to show them to my future editor.

    They really get me thinking.

  15. Good questions and essential to writing a great novel.

  16. Good questions to keep on my bulletin board while I'm writing. If we understand this ahead of time, maybe we'll have fewer revisions and editorial changes later.

  17. Good questions, Shon. Doing it that way, instead of giving all the answers or making the changes for the writer, is the way I work as well.

  18. Thanks for posting this again, Shon. It's a good reminder as I finish my current WIP. I think I was letting my MC get off track.

  19. Thanks for the posting. It has enormously helped me refine my story.

  20. Hey great list. I am going to ask them of the novel WiP.

  21. Great list, Shon.
    Now it's time to do some contemplating and some revisions.

  22. This is a great list, Shon. I tried selecting the link to CLG, but nothing happens. What am I doing wrong?

  23. Is it okay if I use some of the content here for my creative writing class? Cheers!

  24. My first novel has one main character and a small handful of secondary characters that play significant roles in the story. Even though it needs a revision (which it will be getting after the first of the year), it more or less addresses the eight points listed. The second novel, to which a sequel is in progress, is a bit trickier because I have three equally important protagonists. Now application of those eight points gets a bit more complex--no less necessary to address, of course, but a challenge nonetheless.

    1. Oh, a very big challenge, Linda, and I'm wishing you luck on tackling and conquering those challenges!

  25. Great post and good questions to test the plot and writing skills.


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