The Power of an Unanswered Question

By Jennifer Slattery

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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Jennifer Slattery lives with her husband and their teenage daughter. In 2009 she won the HACWN writing contest in the book category, and placed second in the 2010 Dixie Kane writing contest in the inspirational category. She placed fourth in the 2010 Golden Pen and third in the 2010 Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest.
She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, The ACFW Journal, The Christian Pulse, Internet Cafe Devotions, and Jewels of Encouragement. Working under Tiffany Colter, the Writing Career Coach, Jennifer enjoys helping other writers strengthen their manuscripts through critiques and beta-reads. She also co-hosts Living by Grace, a modern-day “meet at the well” Facebook community. Visit her online at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com.
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