Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Most Important Question a Writer Can Ask: Part 3

The most important question you can ask yourself as a writer is "why." This week we examine the power of this question. We started with seeing how it can break writer's block, then used it to work through that tough paragraph, scene or story. Today, we look at the Q&A process.

When writers reach a point in a story—nonfiction or fiction—where they're unsure how to proceed, many plow ahead without adequately resolving the issue. Sometimes this works and the questions get answered along the way. Most times the section ends up needing a major rewrite and leading the writer down the garden path, into a thicket of thorns.

One good way to deal with not knowing what to do next is right in the manuscript. When instinct tells you to take stock, hit the enter key and drop down a line, then describe the problem and how you might fix it. The what-if scenario works well here. Ask yourself, "What if the character did this?" Or, "What if I take the story in this direction?"

Sometimes you can select a scenario, make the fix and keep writing, incorporating the change into the rest of the story and making sure to return and fix everything effected beforehand. Some writers transfer the selected scenario to the end of the chapter or story and check it when they're done writing to make sure they addressed the key points.

If you can't make your selected fix right away, note what has to be changed and where. Novelists sometimes keep a bulleted "To Resolve" list at the end of each chapter. For shorter pieces, you can put notes in brackets within the piece or at the end.

For more information, visit my online editing workshop, On a Clear Day: Editing for Clarity and Publication.


Jess said...

Really good post. I've always been told if I run into a brick wall, that means I probably took a bad turn somewhere in my manuscript and headed in a wrong direction. So I always examine that. I really like your steps to a solution. and will definitely use them from now on. Sometimes I highlight the paragraph in yellow and hop to the next scene. You're right... lots of rewrites if I force myself to continue.

Adele Annesi said...

Glad to hear the post was helpful. It can be beneficial to address these issues while they're still fresh. Keep writing!