Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Power of Story Question by Beth Vogt

I’ve only run out of gas once – but I was about seven months pregnant and driving alone. Having no idea that a gallon of gas weighs about six pounds, I filled the emergency gas can with five gallons of gas. And yes, I lugged it back to my stranded car – uphill all the way.

Has your work-in-progress (WIP) ever run out gas? You’re motoring along, past Act 1 and the Inciting Incident that started your main characters’ journey. A quick glance at your notes indicates you’re somewhere in Act 2. But the story you were so excited about a few weeks ago is sputtering – and then it grinds to a halt and you’re stranded on the side of the writing road.

How did this happen?

Did you remember to tank up before you started writing? Maybe you put the wrong type of gas in your car. Did you even think to fuel up with a Story Question?

Every story has a theme – an overall idea that can usually be summarized by a single word. Wish You Were Here, my debut novel, focused on the theme of forgiveness.

Best-selling author Susan May Warren, founder of the My Book Therapy writing community, first taught me how a Story Question asks a deeper question of the heart and mind. The Story Question asks the great “what if?” If you lose sight of your novel’s Story Question, your novel loses focus.

Ask these four questions to help develop your Story Question:

1. Why does your story matter to you?
2. What is your story’s theme?
3. What is your hero/heroine learning about the theme?
4. What do you want to say about the theme through your characters?

Here’s how I answered these questions for my latest release, Catch a Falling Star:
  1. Catch a Falling Star (CAFS) matters to me because it’s based on a conversation I had with a friend who has wrestled with life not going according to all her plans. Reality is, everyone deals with life not going according to plan.
  2. CAFS’s theme is contentment.
  3. My hero and heroine learn that life can be satisfying and joy-filled even when it doesn’t look anything like they had planned.
  4. I want to say that God is in the plans that work out – and he’s in the plans that don’t work out too.
After working through these questions and brainstorming with some writing comrades, I settled on this Story Question for Catch a Falling Star: What do you do if life doesn’t go according to plan?

Once you’ve developed your Story Question, write it down and then post it over your computer so that you don’t lose sight of it. Every chapter, ever scene of your novel is fueled by your Story Question. Your main characters are answering that great “what if?” as they move from the first page all the way to “The End.”

Do you have a Story Question and/or theme for your work in progress? We'd love to hear it. Feel free to post it in the comments below. And be sure to come back tomorrow as Sandy Ardoin hosts Beth again! Her timely topic? "Prepping to Pitch at a Writer's Conference." You don't want to miss it!

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Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.”

Her contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted in May 2012 (Howard Books), and Catch a Falling Star released May 2013. An established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth is also the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren.

To learn more about Beth, please visit www.bethvogt.com.


  1. Good post! I sat in Susan May Warren's workshops this past weekend at the Great Lakes Getaway conference and this was a highlight (Story Question & Evoking Emotion). It helped me to look back at the novels I've written and ask myself if I answered the story questions satisfactorily. (I think I did. Whew!) -- The Green Veil: Is it really true that you should always follow your heart? The Red Fury: Can a heart be so badly broken that there can never be complete healing again? The Black Rose: In the face of the worst betrayals, can trust truly be rebuilt? Now, working on a new WIP, this advice is absolutely helping me plot. It's basic and profound at once.

  2. Good morning, Naomi! I heard ya'll had a great weekend at that retreat -- and I'm not surprised! Susie is a dynamic teacher.
    And yes, Story Question was a game-changer for me -- one of the reasons I wrote this post.
    Thanks so much for sharing your Story Questions. You've got some good ones! I especially like: Is it really true that you should always follow your heart? You've got me thinking on that one.

  3. Such a good post, Beth! I'm just starting to plot and write a synopsis for my next book...so this is sweet timing for me. Great questions to think about!

    1. I'm excited to hear you're plotting another book, Melissa! I'm counting down the days until your debut novel, Made to Last, releases. Sept. 15, right? And we'll hApPy DaNcE together at ACFW!

  4. I had to copy those four questions down. Thanks, Beth. What a help!

    1. Sandra,
      So glad today's post helped you! That's what it's all about: helping each other out along the writing road. I've been blessed by the encouragement and teaching of Rachel Hauck and Susie May Warren -- and if I can help someone else, then it's been a good day, indeed!

  5. Awesome! You hit me with this reminder at a great time. Nothing like a little refresher to help me steam through Act II and press on to the finish line. Love the analogy, Beth. :-)

  6. Thanks, Dora! And the analogy? I'd forgotten that little story until it came time to write this post. Had a good laugh, remembering my husband asking me: How much do you think a gallon of gas weighs?!

  7. I'm bookmarking this!!
    Awesome stuff, as usual, Beth. Thank you!

  8. Thank you, Jennifer. Glad you're bookmarking the post. And share away if you think it will help other writers.

  9. Thank you so much for joining us today, Beth! You really are the Queen of the Story Question. :)

    And I'm thrilled that you're joining us tomorrow, too! Can wait to hear what you say about pitching. It's perfect timing with ACFW coming up!

  10. Loved being here, Angie! It's great to hang with other writers, anytime, anyway!


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