Reading time: 3 minutes

Blank pages are not scary (A mantra to chant while you shower.)

The next time you’re faced with another beginning writing session, consider this strategy. Don’t lose a moment; show those naked passages who’s boss, and whip out your handy-dandy list of questions.

Questions About the Existing Manuscript

Simply write out decisions you’ve already made about the book. If there’s a question for which you have no decision, just mark it N/A and go on. Please remember this whole process is fun. It’s a discovery, growth, a move toward truth and important action.

Who is the hero of your book?

What does she want?

Who opposes her?

Who is the book written for?

What message do you want readers to take away from this book?

What mistaken idea do you want to quash?

Where and when is the book set?

How does your hero change over the course of the story?

Questions About You

For this group of questions, try to get as many as fifty responses. Don’t make your eyes bleed or anything. But push yourself some. Walk away for a while and come back to the task. You’ll get new fresh ideas. Tackle the list another time first thing in a morning. It can be fun to see how you think differently at different times and places.

  • What do you care about?
  • Who do you want to help?
  • What do you fear?
  • What fascinates you?
  • What would you like to learn about?
  • Who do you most admire and why?

Questions with Possibilities

About your characters

  • Who has the biggest emotional stake in the story? Is that your point-of-view character?
  • What if you gave your hero a Dr. Watson to tell the story?
  • What if you gave your hero an unreliable Dr. Watson to tell the story?
  • Why is that Dr. Watson-type sidekick character hanging out with your hero? (What does he get out of the relationship?)
  • Who is jealous of your hero? How could you show that?
  • Can you come up with ten ways to show your hero is a likable person?

About the character arc

  • What is the character wrong about at the beginning of the story? (One of these things will be what he learns in the course of the story.)
  • What happened to the character in his early life to give him that mistaken view of how the world works?
  • What benefit is he now getting from hanging onto his wrong belief?
  • What is your hero really good at in the beginning of the story?
  • How can you make that:
    • More special?
    • More believable?
    • More admirable
    • More colorful?

About the setting:

  • Have you seen this time and place written about before? Often?
  • Do you want to put an unusual story in a common place?
    • A typical story in a colorful place?
    • A fish-out-of-water story?
    • How would those changes affect your characters?

At a scene level:

  • Are individual scenes set in the most interesting place?
  • Look closely at every-day scenes like traveling, eating, conversing.
    • Can you omit these without hurting the story?
    • Can you move them to interesting places?
    • Can you make them do more work? For example, if your traveling scene delivers important info, do you want to also use it to:
      • Reveal character
      • Interject some humor [as in between two high-anxiety scenes]
      • Let one character have a moment-of-truth speech
      • Add a surprise and/or reverse the readers’ expectationslog-mission-possible-header1024

Your mission, should you choose to accept is:

Pick one part of the novel you’ve settled on but don’t delight in. Think of three ways to question it to see what happens when you make it bigger, smaller, bolder, weirder—whatever your three ideas are. If your experiment pans out, perhaps you’ll post your results here so we can all learn from your example.

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