A good editor knows how to ask the questions that nudge a writer deeper into the story. When an editor can do this, I know my story is in excellent hands.
But before the story ever reaches the editor, I need to act as my own editor – ask those questions of myself to produce the best quality story that I can.
Yesterday, I attended New York City agent Donald Maass’s Fire in Fiction workshop, based on his book of the same name. If you’re looking for the right series of questions to ask about your work-in-progress, Maass will steer you straight.
I left the workshop with an arsenal of writer’s tools in the form of questions designed to deepen character and build the world of the protagonist to have a greater impact on the readers and get them more emotionally involved.
Want an example? When Maass observed that some fantasy and historical stories have under-developed political structures, he spontaneously developed this set of questions:
- What are the distinct social classes in your story?
- Which characters in your story come from each of these classes?
- How will the reader know these characters are from a certain class?
- How does the protagonist see the social classes?
- Who is going to change the social class structure in the story?
- Who is going to move from one class to another? How is this character going to change because of the move?
- What is one thing that is ironic about one of these social classes?
- Pick two social classes and find out what is in conflict between them. Is there one class that has a grudge against another? Is one group being repressed? If so, how?
- What is unfair in the social class system of your story?
- What one law or situation is unjust in the community?
Writers can use the questions that Maass has developed to deepen their stories and inform about their characters. For more insights, check out The Fire in Fiction.
To take this idea further, why not try Maass’s method for yourself? When you’re troubled by some aspect of your work-in-progress or looking for ways to revise a manuscript, consider developing your own series of questions around the issue. Answering those questions could bring unexpected insights and better prepare your novel for that editor or agent.