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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Discovering the Story Question

Patty Smith Hall has been making up stories to keep herself occupied since her parents forced her on boring Sunday drives into the Georgia countryside when she was too young to stay home by herself. Now she's happy to share her wild imagination and love of history with others, including her husband of 29 years, Danny, two smart and gorgeous daughters, and a yorkie that she spoils like a grandbaby. She resides in North Georgia.




Discovering the Story Question


Anyone watch the television show, ‘Castle?’ It's one of my favorites but for those who’ve never watched, it revolves around best selling mystery author Richard Castle as he shadows NYC homicide detective Kate Beckett, investigating murders while searching for the killer of Beckett’s mother and fighting their growing feelings. 
The reason I bring it up is that in their season finale, the unthinkable happened--the lead characters took their friendship to the next ‘level.‘ 
So as the ending credits rolled, my husband asked the inevitable question--after four seasons, had the show had ‘jumped the shark,‘ following the example of another detective show, ‘Moonlighting?’ I’m pretty sure my answer surprised him.
An empathic no! The reason why? While ‘Moonlighting’ was based solely on the sexual tension between the two leads, ‘Castle’ has a story question that has yet to be answered. 
Some of you may be wondering what I mean by a story question. For writers, it is the one internal goal or question that can’t be achieved/answered until the very end of the series or story. It’s that driving force behind our stories, the motivation that pulls our characters toward an unavoidable change or a necessary resolution. 
Two Truths of the Story Question
For me, at least, there are two absolutes when developing your main characters internal motive or goal. First, the motivation needs to be strong enough to pull your character through every high and low of the story. And the stronger, more emotional detailed this motivation is, the more your characters evolve trying to obtain it, the more your readers will be vested in the story.
Let’s go back to ‘Castle.’ In this series, the story question isn’t ‘will they or won’t they?’ That’s the easy way out, and once the question is answered, there’s nothing to keep viewers tuning in or readers turning the page. No, the story question for the series revolves around finding the killer of Kate Beckett’s mother before they kill Kate. Yes, the two leads have a more intimate relationship now but it doesn’t answer the story question. In fact, it complicates it, giving way to even more conflict. Sounds like a pretty good motivation to get me (and every other Castle fan) to tune in next fall. 
The second truth about story questions is that it shouldn’t be answered or changed halfway through the  story. Think about it--how annoyed would you be if you are invested in a book, pulling for the characters and they reach their main goal midway through the book. 
Or worse yet, their motivations change midstream. What a breach of trust! That’s why its so important for we as writers to spend some time discovering what really drives your character. Do character charts. Find out what their basic selfish need is. 

To do so will help create a strong story that will stay with your readers long after they turn the last page of your book.




Hearts in Hiding

Engineer Edie Michaels loves her life—she has a good job, close friends, even a chance at romance with former soldier Beau Daniels. But she could lose everything if her secret comes out…that she's the German daughter of a devoted Nazi.
And when her father sends spies to force her loyalty, everything Edie values is at risk.
Time in a Nazi POW camp changed army medic Beau Daniels. When he discovers a letter of Edie's written in German, he can't help his suspicions. Is she truly the woman he's started to love? Or has she been the enemy all along? With Nazis on Edie's trail, the pair must fight for truth, for survival—and for love.



Available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Walmart.

4 comments:

Ane Mulligan said...

I'm so glad you posted this. It's been one of those elements that made light bulbs go off in my head when I first learned it. Motivation is everything in a story. Without it, there really isn't a story. And I LOVED Hearts in Hiding!

TheQuietPen said...

I agree with Ane. You beautifully defined and explained the need for coherent story motivation, and consistent character motivation. Thanks!

Kathy Kovach... said...

Oh, wow. Speaking of light bulbs, your excellent article just plunked an idea into my head about a series I want to write. Keep the story question going throughout each book while keeping 'em hooked with other story lines that do get answered so as to satisfy the reader. Wow. Thanks, Patty!

Patty Smith Hall said...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by today--I'm glad if I helped in any way.