Writing Secrets: Two magic questions for writing well

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

When I trained as a journalist, I was taught to ask: So what?

It’s an important question. You’re boggled by reporting on a large and complex event, trying to get all aspects of it down on your screen …

And that’s when you pause and ask yourself that all-important question. Why are you reporting on this? Not for its own sake – because events don’t make news.

Your job is to give those events context, to put them into perspective and, most importantly, to show their effect on people’s lives.

It’s the same with creative writing. This is a theme I’ve been following over the past couple of weeks, but I keep coming up against it in our training and mentoring. So, if you think you have a story – fiction or non-fiction – stop and ask yourself, so what?

Because, as I’ve said before: events are not story. The events are there to challenge your characters; to cause them to make choices which affect their lives and, in the end, transform them forever.

I have another question to ask yourself when critically appraising a story.

This was pitched to me as a story idea the other day: a young woman, headed for a big promotion, meets her boss in a social situation. He tries to kiss her. She rebuffs him.

The next day, she learns she isn’t to be promoted after all. Her dim-witted male competitor receives the position instead.

And so?

My question was intended to provoke her into thinking: then what? So far, her scenario is predictable. But surely, that’s where her story starts, rather than ends. Her life has been following an expected path … when it’s thrown out of kilter.

How does she respond to this injustice? What choices does she make that will take her, and her life, on an unexpected road?

So, whenever you start thinking about story, remember the two magic questions. First ask yourself, “So what?” then ask, “And so?”

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Chasing rabbits in the Dark

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