Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ask O: I Can’t Seem to Win. What’s Wrong with My First Fifteen?

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends! Today’s Ask O question is about those first few pages. I’m just going to touch on one component to making our openings sparkle—but a really important one! Story Question.

A few years ago I was honored to judge a writers contest. I read the first few pages—a couple scenes—of the contestants’ novels. Unfortunately, one thing missing in most of the entries was Story Question. In the amount of pages I received, this character component should’ve been clearly defined, but most left it out completely. Whether you’re entering a contest or working on your first chapters for a proposal, Story Question is a vital component in those first pages.

What’s Your Problem?
“A question to be considered, solved, or answered.” That’s the dictionary definition of the word problem. Perfect! Story Question is the character’s problem that must be solved. The deep longing of her heart that aches for resolution. She won’t have rest, peace, or happiness until she finds a satisfying resolution to this one issue. It propels every aspect of the story until finally, with a huge sigh and a flood of relief, she resolves it in the end. Phew!

For Example…
I just read The Help. Wow what a book. In my humble opinion, you could describe the three main characters’ story questions like this:

Aibeleen: Will she find the courage to not only teach the little girl the truth, but find the truth of her own life?

Skeeter: Will she break from the only life she’s known to take opportunities she’s always longed for?

Minnie: Will she leave behind an abusive relationship to be able to give and receive love?

(What do you think? Did I properly define these?)

Can you define your character’s story question in one sentence? It’s really worth the time and effort to nail this. I’ve found a spot-on Story Question not only adds clarity and emotional connection to my first chapter, it helps me frame my complete plot and character arc. Try it!

Next week I’ll offer some practical questions to ask your character as you build her Story Question.

Don’t forget to leave your writing questions in the comments or on

Happy Writing!



  1. Great post, Ocieanna. I haven't read The Help, but I happened to watch the movie last night. You nailed the story questions! If you and I both saw the same things, they must have been obvious. :-D


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