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Sunday, October 1, 2017


Post (c) Doris McCraw
writing as Angela Raines

As I continue on the journey of growing as a writer that began this summer, I am ending this series with 'The Big Questions'. 

What you may ask are the big questions? No, they are not, is this any good, can I get this published or will people like this? No, these are the big questions you can or may want to ask as you are writing.

I give credit to James E. Ryan, Dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, for these questions. He proposed that they are life's essential questions. I've appropriated them for use as I write scenes, chapters and ultimately the story. The questions are: Wait, what? I wonder (why, if)?, Couldn't we at least?, and What truly matters?. He has an addition question but it doesn't really apply for my purpose.

When I sit down to write another scene, I stop and ask "wait, what?" This allows me to focus in on what it is I'm trying to achieve by writing and including this piece in the story. If my hero wants to kiss the heroine, I will pause before I start and ask the questions. Wait, what: does he really want to kiss her, and what will be her response, or their response to each other?

Next I will ask, I wonder if things will go smoothly or I wonder why the two are in this situation. Will the kiss go smoothly, and why did things have to happen this way. Perhaps additional information is needed to inform what is happening.

Perhaps the scene could use an answer to the question, couldn't we at least let them be happy for a moment or maybe I need to create additional conflict from either the two of them or outside influences. Maybe he has had a bad experience and doesn't want to complicate their relationship. Maybe she is shy and although wants the kiss is afraid she will do it all wrong. 

Ultimately the final question is, what truly matters in the upcoming scene? Is it an end scene? Is it a catalyst scene? Do they come to some realization that makes the kiss the most important thing?

I don't always use every question, but do try. I have found it helps to focus me on what I'm trying to accomplish with the story. What is my overall purpose in telling this particular story? Why are these characters doing what they are doing? I do use 'wait, what' almost consistently when either writing a scene, re-writing/editing or when I'm pondering another project. Asking the question allows me to pause and understand my purpose for putting the proverbial pen to paper.

I've used the romance genre here, but these questions work for any type of writing. When you set down to write the non-fiction piece, or the mystery, stop and ask these questions. Wait, what is my purpose. I wonder if I should tell the story this way or another way. Couldn't I try it, see if it works. And of course, what truly matters about this work.

Hopefully, some of the ideas I've shared in this post and the other two, And ActionBadge of Pain, will help you as you travel the road of author who tells stories that matter to you and your readers.

If anyone wishes, to read Mr. Ryan's book, it is called "Wait, What?, and Life's Other Essential Questions" published by Harper One.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -Author, Speaker, Historian,
specializing in Colorado and Women's History

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet

For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here


  1. Doris,

    I often fall back on the "what if...then this" strategy. The 'why' is important to ask yourself, too.

    I'll take a look at Mr. Ryan's book. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I've just found the book a simple read, full of things that make me think. It fit so perfectly with what I was doing as a writer, I just had to share. *Smile* Doris

  2. I've never really consciously asked these questions, but now I see I at least had an inkling that I had. And they are important questions. Most often, I just write wily-nily, and somehow it usually comes out okay. But I think I could benefit by stopping and asking myself these questions. Thanks, Doris! Good advice.

  3. Celia, I write a lot like you do, so when I started using these questions it was a bit weird. Still, they do help, and are really useful when I start to edit. Hope they work out for you also, and thanks for the kind words. Doris