Those Nagging Little Questions – Chapter 3 – What’s Wrong With This?

A writer of any genre, even a technical writer, must continually ask themselves this question. Be certain your readers are.

How did your character go from naked in the bedroom to fully dressed in the living room in only one paragraph which mentioned nothing about getting dressed?

Why was the aunt named Ethyl in the first 4 chapters but is now suddenly called June?

Sometimes you can deliberately place something wrong in your story to allow another character to point it out, thus drawing the reader or viewer in. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” did an excellent job of this when Captain Kirk serves up the line “What does God need with a starship?” The timing of the line was perfect because most of the audience was still caught up on the special effects and hadn’t actually thought of it. That one line pulled everyone in the theater back into the story.

Far too many writers get caught up asking “What’s wrong with this” while they are writing. You ask that question before and after the first draft, but never during. Slam through it and get that first draft done. Hope to write 100,000 more words than you need because, if editing does its job, about that much will be cut out into text files for your “random scenes” or “scraps” directory. Parts of them may find their way into something else, they just didn’t make the cut for your current work.

Some of you might have skimmed over my saying you ask this question _before_ the first draft. It should be a question you ask yourself a dozen to one hundred times per day. This is where the little ideas come from. I see too many writers idling away hours on-line claiming they are “waiting for their muse to speak.” Here is the truth, they are just being lazy. If your muse isn’t speaking to you that would be because it is waiting for you to ask it a question. One of the most productive questions to ask it is “What’s wrong with this?”

If your work commute has you riding a train staring aimlessly out the window and you spy a utility pole badly patched with 2 large bolts and a pair of 2×6 boards see the image and ask it “What’s wrong with this?” The honest answer may be greedy utility executives waiting for a storm to take the line so the expense can be booked as an emergency repair allowing them to ask for a rate increase, but your muse isn’t really concerned with that kind of honesty. In an era where corruption runs amok, that isn’t an interesting story. It may choose to tell you about Joe Johnson, the utility worker who made that patch because he wanted to get home for his son’s game only to have some kind of horrible accident in his haste. It may choose to tell you the science fiction tale of how all trees on the planet were suddenly becoming petrified wood due to some science experiment which got out of control. The potential responses are endless if you allow them to be, but you must first ask the question.

A writer must be, in large part, a journalist. Not what journalists are now, but a real journalist. Someone who is _always_ asking questions. Not necessarily out loud to someone and certainly not to an Internet search engine. You must ask it of your muse and reward your muse by writing down the stories it tells you. Not all of them will be worthy of publication, even as a blog post, but they will seed the garden from which good things come.

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