The Power of an Unanswered Question

Last night I finished a book I enjoyed despite long pages of tedium and an abundance of flashbacks. Halfway through, with numerous other books waiting on my Kindle, I asked myself why I kept reading. I skimmed over large sections, sometimes whole pages, (all totaled, maybe half the book) and yet, continued to the end. Rare for me, as I don’t have the patience to waste time on mediocre novels.

The reason I kept reading despite the my page-skimming? The author planted a driving question I needed resolved.

I was pretty certain I knew the answer. I’ve read enough predictable novels to expect predictability, but I was pleasurably surprised. In the end, the novelist not only answered my question, but in a way I’d never suspected.

As you work on your novels, remember to plant questions in your readers’ minds. More importantly, make sure all those questions—those unknowns anchored at the end of scenes and chapters—point to a larger question, a driving question. It may make the difference between a sludge-pile novel and a best seller.

As a side note, if a reader can skim over anything and still catch the story, delete. It’ll save a tree. 🙂

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About Jennifer Slattery

Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery, also writing as Jen Pheobus, uses humor, grace, and truth to inspire God's children to live abundant, Christ-centered lives. She does content editing for Firefly, a southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com; Internet Cafe Devotions; Faith, Friends and Chocolate; and manages the social media for Takin’ it to the Streets, a ministry that serves Omaha’s working poor and homeless. She’s placed in numerous writing contests and her work has appeared in numerous compilations, magazines, and e-zines.

Posted on January 27, 2012, in fiction, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’ve done the same thing with a few books. Great advice, Jen!

  2. Great point, nice reminder. Thanks.

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