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The Power of Questioning

Jennifer A. Nielsen

Hey young writers, let’s chat about how to build a stronger plot. Play along and see where your imagination takes you.

Most stories begin with a plot hook. Let’s use this one as an example:

Girl suspects her boyfriend wants to break up with her. She’ll do everything she can to stop it.

Pretty basic plot, right? So you begin adding in a few details. Something like this…

The girl is Addie, age sixteen. On her own, she’s average, with mediocre popularity. But once she began dating Jack, the “It guy” of her school, suddenly she became the “It girl.”

A lot of writers stop plotting there, and begin writing. But what if…

What if you played with a few more what ifs? If you asked just a few more questions, where could the plot go? So if you’re playing along, answer these questions.

1. How far is Addie willing to go to keep Jack?

2. Does Jack actually want to break up, or is she only imagining it?

3. If Jack wants to break up, why?

4. What will Addie lose if she is no longer the “It girl”?

5. Is Addie dating Jack only because she thought he could offer her popularity?

Now, let’s take question #5. Maybe your answer was, “Addie wouldn’t make Homecoming Queen if Jack breaks up with her.”

Now ask more questions:

1. Who will make Homecoming Queen in her place? (A rival, an enemy, her best friend?)

2. Why does Homecoming Queen matter? (Maybe her big sister was queen once, and Addie has always been compared to her)

3. Would she be willing to break up with Jack after Homecoming?

And so on. Every question you ask creates more depth, more interest, and more complexity for your plot. It will take practice, but keep at it. Ask questions and search for the most interesting answers you can. Great answers create more questions, which will lead you to amazing stories.

Jennifer Nielsen is a New York Times Bestselling author of several books for young readers. She wishes she had thought of Harry Potter first. But let's be honest, she probably would've botched it.


TABC 2020 Class:

WRITERS AD/HD: What to do with a Dozen Beginnings and No Endings

No, it's not just you. A lot of people start stories, then abandon them midway for another bright, shiny new idea. If you're ready to finish the stories you began, this class is for you.

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