Writers Who Anticipate Questions Build Relationships with Readers

Writers Who Anticipate Questions Build Relationships with ReadersPhoto by Islander Images on Unsplash

Writers strengthen images by creating settings that invite the readers into the story, cultivating a relationship between the characters and the readers, and captivating the readers with the action. When writers are unsure or unaware of how to make this happen, the answers are in the questions.

People in general are curious. Our minds crave informtion to nourish our imaginations. When a writer predicts and responds to readers’ questions, they fill in the gaps and create a satisfying experience. A powerful strategy to develop a text is to ask questions throughout the process of writing. Because the process is recursive, questioning becomes a continuous action for effective writers.

Often questioning begins before the pen touches paper to focus a topic. A writer questions the characteristics of the audience, the intended purpose, why the material will be important and relevant, how to introduce new information and how organization produces clarity. The questions prompt the next sentence, paragraph, and develop the plot. If the answers to these questions are defined and then addressed in the first draft, the text gains authority and direction.

After completing a first draft, revision refines the writing strengthening the details and adding pertinent information. Writers too often assume their audience understands the key points, so they do not provide examples or step-by-step procedures in non-fiction. Fiction requires the same attention to details. When the readers’ questions are not addressed, though the material may be interesting, the reader is left hanging without a clear understanding of how to apply the content or is unable to connect. It is essential once a reader invests time, the writing delivers what it has promised.

For instance, if I promise to demonstrate how to use questioning strategies to develop writing but do not present a convincing argument why, you, the reader will never complete the material to realize the value of the content. If I list questions that can be asked after a first draft but do not demonstrate how the answers improve writing, the list would serve no functional purpose.

Asking the 5 W’s

Use the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when , and why to probe for new details. I hear your frustration because asking questions is not a knew strategy. However, start thinking of the answers as more than simple statements of response. At first, asking questions may seem extremely elemental and time consuming, but if your writing seems to be mundane, lacking a unique voice, or reads like someone is retelling an old story without enthusiasm, this strategy can breathe life into the narrative.

Maybe, you have asked questions and answered them but still see little change in your writing. Once questions are asked, provide answers that offer new details, enhance the writing, grow a sentence to a paragraph. Weave the answers into the description, the dialogue, the action of the narrative, anywhere possible to develop the narrative.

Get inside the readers’ heads and anticipate what they want to know. Let’s explore how this is accomplished by revising this sentence; I watched the squirrel run up the tree. Now what might a reader want to know?

  • Why did the squirrel run up the tree?
  • What kind of tree?
  • What did she look like?
  • What sound did she make?
  • How did he move?
  • Where was the tree?

The next step is to weave the answers into the writing to transform a telling statement into a description that shows. Below is a revision of the original sentence.

The fat squirrel used her sharp claws to scurry up the huge, grandfather oak tree. Upon reaching the first limb, approximately seven feet off the ground, she climbed to the end and balanced on the thin branch. It quickly became apparent, her chubbiness could be attributed to the nuts she carried, probably with the intent to fill a cache since the fall weather warned of winter’s approach. As she stared down at the dog barking at the base, her reddish-brown fur stood on end, and she chirped a series of what must have been expletives in squirrel language.

After a short time, writers who practice anticipating readers’ questions and responding begin to fill in the gaps without the process of writing the questions down; the process becomes intuitive. However, until this happens asking question offers a technique to strengthen writing. Some writers find value in asking a peer to question their rough draft. Then they respond knowing they have the power to provide answers that enrich the material and ignore irrelevant questions.

Beginning writers benefit from this strategy because it helps generate ideas. When they once thought they were done, they become empowered to understand they have only just begun. Experienced writer, who anticipate questions, gain the ability to identify necessary details to produce a unique style and voice. Questioning moves words from lifeless, telling narratives to living, showing accounts of events. As Mark Twain instructed, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

Now let’s move beyond me telling you what to do, and let’s watch the magic unfold. The three paragraphs below tell a sequence of events, share a weak description of character, and provide limited emotion.

First draft

Image for postImage for postAbove slides created by author, Brenda Mahler

The questions encourage the writer to add information the draft. Sometimes the writer may choose to ignore a question while other questions may prompt ideas they had not thought about earlier. The following draft includes revisions after considering the questions.

Second draft

Mrs. Schultz stood behind the screen door watching her three children play in the backyard. “Come in,” she shouted and turned back to the stove. After five minutes she noticed the absence of commotion that her children bring with them. She returned to the door and yelled, “Dinner!” This time her voice sounded a little sterner and a lot louder. “You kids need to get cleaned up and ready for dinner before the food gets cold.”

From the reaction of the kids, an observer would have thought she hadn’t said a word. They continued to swing, going as high as possible. Then they jumped into the sand a few yards away. The mother finished cooking dinner and placed the food on the table. After several minutes, she returned to the doorway.

This time she looked less patient standing with her hot pad covered hands on her hips; however, she said nothing, just watched as Clara pushed Sam higher than the time before, and Anna dug a hole and buried something, probably a toy that wouldn’t be discovered until the kids went hunting buried treasure. The oldest, whined, “Mamma, we only need a couple more minutes. Sam challenged me to go higher than him.”

Instead of ordering the kids inside again, she set the food o the table, sat down and ate her meal of pot roast and mashed potatoes.

Feeling relaxed she poured herself a glass of wine and enjoyed the satisfaction of a warm meal. With a smirk, she silently giggled at her private joke. She noticed the sun was setting and the children remained entranced in their games, so she cleaned the table, placed the leftovers, which were most of the meal, into the fridge and cleaned up.

When her three children ran laughing through the entrance, Mrs. Schultz had just poured herself another glass of wine and began reading Oprah’s newest book club recommendation. “Mamma, you said dinner was ready?”

“Mom, we’re hungry.”

“Mom. Mom!”

She kept reading, enjoying the opportunity to escape into a book.

Anna climbed on her mother’s lap, placed the palm of her hands on each cheek to make eye contact, “Mommy, I want to eat, now.”

This captured the mother’s attention who looked up, smiled, and replied, “Dinner is over. It is time to get ready for bed.” Then she returned to continue reading. All three of the kids sat dumbfounded at this unusual behavior for a couple of moments. Then they realized maybe this time they had better do what they were told.

By addressing the questions, the text added details that increased interest in the story, causing it to be more realistic while connecting the readers to the characters. Questioning helps you as the writer define the purpose, build a relationship with the characters and enhance the description. In the end if you know the answers share them with the readers so they aren’t required to work harder during the process of reading than you did during the writing.

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