Writers Write creates and shares resources for writers. In this post, we talk about the most important things to remember about the dramatic question.
What Is The Dramatic Question?
The dramatic question is the cornerstone of your story and it is always about the protagonist’s central conflict. It will help you plot your story. Although the term was originally coined for theatrical works, it is also used for novels.
Here are three points to think about when you ask this question:
- Be specific. At the heart of every story we have a protagonist who has to overcome obstacles in order to resolve a problem. The dramatic question is always ‘Will the protagonist achieve his or her story goal?’. This seems simple, but you have to be specific here. The question you ask must be at the heart of the story, and everything else should depend on it.
- Answer yes or no. It is best if it is a tangible question with a concrete rather than an abstract outcome. You can improve a dramatic question’s effectiveness by making sure that it requires a yes or no answer.
- Honour the contract. The question is also an unspoken contract between the writer and the reader. It gives them the promise of the shape and outcome of the story. Readers need to grasp this question early on in the novel. If they do not, they will stop reading or become increasingly frustrated with the author. How many times have you given up on a story because you could not work out what it was about?
Good Examples Of Dramatic Questions:
- Will Luke Skywalker defeat Darth Vader?
- Will Santiago catch the fish?
- Will Katniss win The Hunger Games?
- Will Romeo and Juliet end up together?
- Will Clarice Starling catch Buffalo Bill?
Readers want the answer to these questions to be ‘yes’, but it is the writer’s job to add as many ‘nos’ to the story on the way to the final ‘yes’. If you do not want the protagonist to achieve the story goal, your answer will obviously be ‘no’ at the end.
How The Dramatic Question Affects Your Writing
If you have a good understanding of your dramatic question, you can write a readable novel. The dramatic question is all about suspense, and even those writers with poor writing techniques do well if they understand this. For example, Dan Brown manages to do this repeatedly, as does Stephenie Meyer who managed to create a series around the dramatic question ‘Will Edward and Bella live happily ever after?’
The good news is that if you have a relevant, exciting, suspenseful dramatic question, you can create an unforgettable story.
If you enjoyed this post, read:
- The 6 Questions Writers Must Answer In And Within A Novel
- 9 Famous Anti-Social Fictional Characters
- The 10 Secrets Of Resilient Characters