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Using Questions To Expand Your Story

Writing is by BeginteI think it’s safe to say that we are all daydreamers. Whether you only enjoy reading fantasy or you write your own stories, we all enjoy getting lost in our imaginations. But when we’re writing our own stuff it’s often hard to craft a story to go along with our collection of good ideas. Good ideas are a dime a dozen though, it isn’t difficult to come up with a few good ones. The real work starts in taking those seeds of ideas – whether it’s for plot, action, character or something else – and expanding on those ideas until you have a story. And for that, the best thing to do is ask a single, simple question.

Well, not a single question… and they probably won’t all be very simple. Forget that last bit.

Instead, I’d like to recommend taking a good long look at that rough clay of a story or collection of ideas you might have and start asking yourself all kinds of questions, anything that might come to mind. I’ll show you what I mean.

I have an idea for a story that I know will have a few different elements:

– Quest Story
– Urban Fantasy
– Hero gets an awesome magic sword
– The villain is an evil king

Now I know what I’ve laid out there is fairly generic stuff but stick with me. With just these four elements what is the next step? How can we transform these elements into a story worthy of the ages (or a publisher)?

Correct! (I’m gonna go ahead and assume you answered, either mentally or out loud.) The answer is to start asking questions.

1. What is the goal of the quest – an object, a position of power, character growth?

a. How did the hero learn about this goal?
b. Where is the goal of the quest being kept?

2. Urban fantasy, huh? What timeframe is this story?

a. Does it all take place in one city?
b. How does this change the typical “quest format?”

3. Is the magic sword the goal of the quest?

a. What kind of magic is it – talking, amplifying, rips open holes between dimensions?
b. Where does the hero get the sword if not at the end of the quest?

4. What role does the king have in this – does he want the goal of the quest for himself?

a. Is this the king of the hero’s nation or a neighboring nation?
b. How does the king impede the hero from his quest?

You can see how four simple elements can be expanded upon rather easily with just a few questions, which then give rise to more and more questions branching out. Being writers of fantasy, I also would encourage you to really stretch the limits of your imagination. Don’t just write down the first answer that comes to mind but a few more as well and add some embellishments as well. Why settle for a simple chair made of wood when you can have a monstrous iron throne made of thousands of swords?

Flowering Book by Sylar113I’ll admit this process lends itself a little more to us architects. The ones that like to outline their stories rather than write by the seat of their pants like a gardener. But I’ll also argue that if you are a gardener if you still ask yourself questions such as this you’ll save time and work in revisions. Maybe just don’t go as far down the branching paths and leave plenty of room to discover your story.

One final bit of advice; if you feel comfortable sharing with somebody – a fellow writer, a significant other, or even just a good friend – your work will really benefit as they can spot the things you might not be able to see from your close vantage point.

Next time you sit down to work on the story that you constantly daydream about, just remember to ask yourself some questions and shape that lump of clay into a story that’s just waiting to be read.

Title image by Sylar113.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Rickard says:

    One of the best pieces of advice for writing I’ve seen in a while! Simple, yet very helpful!

  2. Avatar Ro Lamb says:

    Asking yourself questions about your story also helps to find original directions to take your story. It will allow you to find directions that maybe haven’t been explored.

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