How To Find Your Story By Asking A Shitload Of Questions

As a writer, you know how it goes: You’re sitting around having coffee or you’re driving to work and BAM! A story idea hits your brain.

You write the idea down and then you start thinking about the story. You wake up almost every day thinking about it. This goes on for awhile—maybe even years.

Finally you decide it’s time to put words on paper and get this story idea out of your head. So you sit down and start writing. You get a little ways in, maybe even halfway through, and then abandon it because you just can’t make it work.

The reason is because you didn’t take the time to develop the story. You went from “idea seed” to “first draft,” but totally skipped all the parts in the middle (story development and story planning).

So then you have to go back to square one and dig around again to see if you can figure out what this story is really about. And the thing that sucks is you could’ve started here first, and not wasted any time writing a draft that you’ll have to completely rewrite.

Finding Your Story

Finding your core story is a matter of asking yourself a shitload of questions related to your story: the setting, the conflict, the characters, and more. Asking questions is how you find your core story—and it’s also how you discover any plot holes that exist.

Pretend you’re a story journalist and you have to take your idea seed and tear it to pieces, so that way you get to the core of the idea, and you’re able to then develop a concept and premise.

Who are these characters? What do they want? What’s trying to stop them from getting it?

In his book, Story Engineering, storytelling badass, Larry Brooks, talks about asking “What If” questions in order to find your story.

What if he does this? What if she does that? What if he can’t get there in time?

When you ask questions, you’re able to pull apart the details and see what you’ve got to work with.

An Example

For example, if your idea seed is a story about two people meeting and falling in love, you can use this as the jumping off point for your questioning.

So in this example, here are some questions you’d need to ask:

  • Who is this guy? (Bob. He’s 45, single and dreams of traveling the world)
  • Who is this girl? (April. 35. World traveler. Divorcee.)
  • What does he want? (He wants to get up the courage to quit his job and go backpacking overseas.)
  • What does she want? (She wants some stability in life. She’s done the travel thing.)
  • How does what they want change once the First Plot Point is introduced? (They fall in love. He wants to travel. She wants to build a home base. Now what?)

And then once you have answers to these questions, you can dig even deeper:

  • How will these characters change over the course of the story? (They’ll realize that they need each other, and will find a way to compromise and make things work.)
  • How will they find a way to compromise? (They’ll have a “home base” where they live six months a year, and the other six months they choose six destinations from anywhere in the world and live in each place for 30 days.)
  • What will tear them apart before they come back together at the end? (She gets pregnant, then miscarries when they’re traveling somewhere. She says she’s done traveling. She buys a house in the town they met in. Says if he loves her he can come with her, otherwise he should go.)

Now obviously these questions are just barely scratching the surface of this idea seed. There are still a lot more details that need to be figured out.

But I think you get the gist.

Asking questions will be your guide to digging out the pieces of your story. Then once you have all the pieces, you’ll be able to figure out where each piece needs to go in order to make the story cohesive and engaging.

Could You Use Some Help Finding Your Story?

Join me for a free Clarity Call and let’s talk about working together to find your story.

Image courtesy of Duncan Hull

15 replies
  1. Ed Desautels
    Ed Desautels says:

    Along these lines, create a dossier for each of characters in which you detail each of your characters’ habits, likes, preferences, hobbies, peeves, fears, etc. You needn’t use all of these details, but the degree to which you can fill the dossier with detail determine how successful you are in presenting your characters in three dimensions.

    • Jennifer Blanchard
      Jennifer Blanchard says:

      @Ed I agree–Larry Brooks talks about the three dimensions of character in his book, Story Engineering. And knowing your characters definitely helps you develop your story further.

  2. Cindy Murdoch
    Cindy Murdoch says:

    Asking questions definitely helps figure out which way a story can go. It gives you options. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient enough to answer them. But in the end, it is so much better to have the answers.


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