How do you develop a central question for your Short Story?

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
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How do you develop a central question for your Short Story?

Postby WilliamHadleyyy » Tue Jan 15, 2019 4:36 am

I'm a beginner, but I feel as a writer I feel I'm halfway to being good. I'm content with my writing style (which is growing similarly in style to GRRM), but I can't seem to figure out anything worthwhile to write about. Which as you know is problematic.

So my question is:

How do you develop a central question for your Short Story?

How do you dig deep into yourself and find those questions, and answers, you get passionate about?

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Re: How do you develop a central question for your Short Story?

Postby amoskalik » Tue Jan 15, 2019 10:25 am

It depends on what you mean by central question.

Typically, I start with a concept, which is probably what you mean. For genre fiction, this would be the what is unique and interesting about the world you are building, be it magic or technology or societal construct. I usually require two or three such concepts mashed up before something germinates, so I keep a list and let them sit, sometimes for years, until another idea or two comes along that mesh with it.

If by central question, you mean theme, then I usually don't nail this down this until near the end of the writing process. A theme is very different from a concept, in that it is something your story's world has in common with our world that will resonate powerfully with the reader. It is difficult to write to a predetermined theme without coming off as heavy handed, so I always let the theme emerge naturally and then accentuate it in revision, but I still have to set up conditions such that a theme can emerge and this is usually done by developing characters with deep backstories and intricate relationships between them.
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Re: How do you develop a central question for your Short Story?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Tue Jan 15, 2019 10:46 am

Sometimes I start with a central idea in mind, but just as often I start with the characters or the plotline and let the central idea build through the course of writing the first draft. I have noticed that there are some recurring themes that tend to show up in my writing (the importance of personal independence and/or freedom often features prominently).
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Re: How do you develop a central question for your Short Story?

Postby kentagions » Tue Jan 15, 2019 1:54 pm

Hi and welcome WilliamHadleyyy,

I'm with amoskalik, here. I don't know what a central question is.

In Speculative Fiction, there is a speculative setting: past, present, future (and their alternates), alternate worlds and timelines. There is also a defined milieu, often dysfunctional, that colors every element of the setting.

Within the setting lives a likable protagonist (Often, but not always, the point of view character) who is the prime mover of the story. This well-defined protag has a problem to solve or a goal to reach which defines the initial course of the story (This can change, given twists, turns and discoveries made along the way.) The writer places obstacles before the protag that complicate the process of solving the problem or prevent progress toward reaching the goal.

In a three-act story, the first obstacle precipitates the inciting incident (First Failure). The second obstacle gives the protag pause (Second Failure), redirects the path to the solution or goal, and often serves to bring the protag to a breaking point. The third obstacle leads to the climax, where the protagonist faces the antagonist (Which may be the self, another person, a society or even Nature.) and either succeeds or fails. The solution or goal is then reached or, in case of failure, the solution or goal no longer has the meaning that it once did.

These obstacles are the main conflict of any speculative story. Stories are about conflict and its attempted resolution. When all conflicts are resolved, the story is over.

To start any story, I need three elements, a well-defined setting, a well-defined, likable protagonist and a goal. After that, what does the protagonist fear the most?

Good luck,

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Re: How do you develop a central question for your Short Story?

Postby orbivillein » Mon Jan 21, 2019 1:56 am

A central question, also known as dramatic question, as I learned, is what will happen, sort of plot, though other transformations, too. For example, mystery's conventional dramatic question is who done it. Thriller, why who done it. Romance, will they or won't they . . . Western, will the rugged individual rogue "get" the outlaw or rogue villain or become more or less of a rogue individual.

Science fiction and fantasy, and "literary" experimental forms, a dramatic question might be any facet of the social, personal, or private conditions that seek personal relevance or one of the others' conventions or both. What If is popular for science fiction. An aegis of personal wish fulfillment power is popular for fantasy. Literary favors deep personal insights into self, people, places, and social situations altogether.

These above all bear on a central story facet: what does So-and-so want that is problematic to achieve, a valid enough span of the gamut, or, the congruent opposite, what is the central dramatic problem So-and-so wants to resolve or at least satisfy. A valid dramatic or central question for the gamut, too, these are motivations.

Another part is stakes at risk from efforts to satisfy motivations, what is at risk, a dramatic question, too, and part of want and problem, like success and failure risked, outlaw captured or killed or got away and reputation risked, wealth and poverty risked, romantic acceptance and rejection risked, why who done it imperils and stop of the who from known why secures safety for us all, etc.

From what matters to me now, for a while, and of a greater than everyday strife and motivation satisfaction, of great personal passion, that is, I develop a central, dramatic question, so some degree of meaning and understanding from my life and for my personal sake comes of it.

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