Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.
WELL! Clearly I would not do well in summer school. I now have TWO tardy slips for late posts and I have no one to blame but myself. I'm sorry, friends. Summer is definitely beating me. But I do have something to discuss, something I've been chewing on this week.
The dramatic question is a very simple, yes or no question that the writer promises to answer by the end of the story. It is THE QUESTION. It's the WHY behind the writing and it acts as a handshake between the reader and writer. A bond. A contract. If you, as the writer, do not answer the major dramatic question you have posed, you will leave your reader unsatisfied. And, honestly, you probably belong in writer jail.
The dramatic question is not something you actually write into your story. It's not, say, the first sentence of chapter two or even slipped discretely into the title. It is the rope tying the reader to yourself. The rope they use to follow you through all the description, all the prose, all the internal pondering and it is the rope that you will use to lead them to the conclusion of your carefully crafted tale.
You're wanting examples now, right? Dramatic questions we can pull from books so that we can all discuss this more fully. Let's use my Angel Eyes trilogy.
In Angel Eyes, the dramatic question is this: Will Brielle believe what she sees?
Simple. Straightforward. The answer is either a YES or NO.
In Broken Wings, the dramatic question is this: Will Brielle rise above tragedy and brokenness and fight, even if she has to do it alone?
A little more wordy, but still easily answerable, still easily understood.
In Dark Halo, the final book of the trilogy, things come full circle and the dramatic question reflects that: Will Brielle choose to see the world as it really is, even when it hurts?
These questions are a piece of cake to write now, but there's a good reason for that. The stories are already written. They've been drafted and edited and edited and edited and proofread and I even have a couple years of distance between myself and the writing. Those things make asking the dramatic question easy. When you're in the thick of it though, it can be very difficult to KNOW what you're actually writing about, especially if you write by the seat of your pants.
But knowing (or at least, suspecting) that there is a question out there you're writing to answer, brings a sort of focus in the chaos of words and can settle you into your chair when the story seems to have developed a life of its own.
One of the reasons we often get lost in the tangle of our own words is that we haven't stopped to consider what it is we're writing toward. We are writing toward the answer to this one question. We are writing to KNOW something about our main character. And that brings me to the "how-to" portion of today's post.
HOW do we craft a dramatic question for our stories? Focusing on three things will help:
Your Protagonist: Who are you writing about? This person's name should probably be in the dramatic question. Very simply, "Will Susie find her blue hair ribbon?" "Will Mikey beat his nemesis in the big school race?" If you cannot identify who your protagonist is, if you have too many characters and too little focus, you may want to think this through a bit. Focus. We need a hero to follow.
His or Her Goal: What does your main character want? Susie wants to find her blue hair ribbon. Mikey wants to win the race. In the Angel Eyes trilogy, Brielle wants to know what the heck she's supposed to do with what she sees. These things must somehow be reflected in the question you're asking.
Obstacles: What is keeping your main character from reaching her destination? Brielle isn't big on believing in the invisible. She doesn't want to believe there is more to life than what can be reasonably seen. Once she can see the invisible world, this built-in, rooted emotion doesn't stop being an obstacle to her. It is a problem. Her belief will not change reality, but it will change her actions. This problem must be overcome and that should be reflected in the dramatic question.
I've given you some things to think about and play around with, but if I'm honest, the dramatic question is almost always easier to craft after the story is written. I bet you can hone in on dramatic questions from all your favorite books. In fact, take a minute and do that. Think of your favorite story and stew on it for a bit. What ONE question does the author answer for you at the end. Focus, now. Hone in. What is it?
Now, do it for the story you're currently drafting.
See, it's easier to do when the book is already written. And that brings me to my final tip and trick for the day. Knowing what it is you're asking and answering can be incredibly helpful, but it will require some thought. In my experience, taking the time to write up a quick synopsis or story summary could go a long way in helping you discover what it is you're really writing about.
I know. Writing a summary is not easy and it takes all sorts of time and effort, but at this point, it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to help you flesh out that question. And the irony is that once you know what your dramatic question is, writing a synopsis gets much easier. And suddenly you'll have focus and a sturdy rope to lead your reader with.
Tell me, have you ever written a dramatic question for your stories before? Give it a try. If you're brave, share with us.