8 Reader Questions–8 Parts of Speech

Sharing is nice

“The new writer found she wrote best thinking of her readers’ questions–and how!”

 

This sentence contains all you need to know about writing a story. You may want to commit it to memory.

I recently discovered something I think may help new writers remember everything they need to write amazing stories quickly.

Usually, beginning writers simply write what speaks to them and never consider what readers may want from them. Instead, I teach writers they’ve got to love their readers, so we must consider what our readers, not we ourselves, need to know. 

Now, sure, the goal of editing is considering what readers need, but to writer better and faster, you’ve got to learn to consider those questions while you write, as part of your process.

That’s the goal. So what I’ve needed is a method for explaining that.

Because if you’ve ever written or edited anything, you know it’s incredibly difficult–there are so many things to think about. You’ve got to break it down into steps so you can avoid breaking down yourself.

Anyway, that’s what I want to do in this post.

So look back at the opening sentence. It’s got the 8 parts of speech–noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, and interjection. No big whoop about that, right?

Well, prepare to have your mind blown, my friend, because it’s my contention that there are also 8 correlating “big reader questions”: Who, what, how, where, when, why, really, and who cares.

I believe you can answer all your readers’ questions and learn to quickly craft satisfying stories by remembering these simple 8 things. These are the only things that matter to your readers (and if you’re an aspiring writer, you can hereby skip all the beginner tools and tips).

If you can simply remember the parts of speech, you can remember what you need to do to write a great story:

Nouns – Subject (“Who”)

Verbs – Action (“What”)

Adjectives/Adverbs – Descriptions (“How”)

Pronouns – Point of View (This is “the question asker”–more on this below)

Prepositions/Conjunctions – Context (“Where” & “When”)

Interjections – Drama (“Why” & all-important “Who cares?”)

The first words here are easy. Subject-verb. You remember those from English class. Technically they’re all you need to write a sentence–and all you need for a story is a character doing something. The subject and their action answer your reader’s first questions: What and Who. 

“What’s this story about?” “What’s going on?” “Who is he?” 

Obviously, your hero and the central action are the most important tools to draw readers in, so if you’ve got someone interesting and you’ve got interesting things happening, great! You’re on your way. But to keep readers reading, you’ll need a little more than that.

The real secret is in making readers care. And that’s done by considering a deeper question: “How?”

“How” is more specific: How does my character feel? How is her deep fear best revealed? How have I matched her deep desire with a strong opposition to give her a compelling plight?

Think of those how questions as the adjectives and adverbs in a sentence. They answer readers’ questions with specific details. In your story, you need particular, unique details to add color to your scenes, and not by using adjectives and adverbs, but by involving the senses. Grounding readers in a specific time and place requires being able to smell the coffee or the grass, or feel the humidity of the South from your characters’ childhood days. You’ve got to make details sensory by showing, instead of telling.

Any writer worth her calling knows to kill your adverbs and adjectives wherever possible. But what they do in a sentence can remind you to answer the question of how: How does it feel in this scene?, i.e. How is she affected by his rejection?, or How does the office culture contribute to his discontent?, etc.

Now it’s better to use a stronger verb than an adverb, and it’s better to show what your character does instead of describing how he feels. Just remember that adverbs and adjectives remind us we need select, specific sensory details to express the emotions and feeling of scenes.

Pronouns (he, she, it, they) represent point of view, who is experiencing the story. This is important to consider and beginning writers struggle with this, but your point of view character is the readers’ filter and question-asker, so have her ask good questions. And if it’s your first book, use third person limited, not omniscient. You can branch out next time. And remember to always finish the scene before switching characters.

Prepositions (of, about, with, in, etc.) and conjunctions represent all the connections and relationships between your character and his world. Think of them as representative of the context of the story, specifically where and when. Like the frame around the artwork, they remind us to consider everything relative to the character and his situation. “Where are we?” “When did this happen?” and, “Where have I shown the internal and external stories connecting?” This fabulous question will greatly enhance the significance of your story. The connections you draw out are what make your story mean something, which leads to the last question:

Interjections answer the question why does this matter?, i.e. Who cares? Interjections (“–and how!”) represent the emotional drama you always want to increase. It can be big and loud, or quiet and intense, but it’s got to get readers engaged! High emotional stakes make the story matter more, so interjections remind you to ramp up the impact.

And there you have it. How to answer readers’ eight big questions by remembering the eight parts of speech.

Of course, to give readers the best emotional experience, you’ve got to learn to answer only the questions readers need answered. Which is to say you’ve got to balance this and get out of the way of readers discovering what they must answer–which is why you should never say “it felt like…” or “it was [this or that].” No! Bad writer! No cookie!

The last question, “Really?” is, What makes this story believable? Your specific sensory details make the story life-like and unique. But realize it’s also in the work you do to suggest and hint at many answers you let the reader figure out themselves.

A follow-up post on that will probably be needed. But with patient practice I believe you’ll start feeling the balance that works best and be churning out killer stories quicker and that connect better.

Just keep showing up to play….

(If you found this helpful, let me know. I’m currently compiling my first ebook of the “Best of Monday Motivations for Writers” If you have any thoughts or follow-up questions, email me through the form below. And in the meantime, get writing.) 

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Sharing is nice

16 thoughts on “8 Reader Questions–8 Parts of Speech”

  1. This is absolutely brilliant, Mick. I read it and kept thinking, “He should teach a workshop in this!” You have, right? I admit I laughed out loud at the “No! Bad Writer! No cookie!” part.

    1. :) Cookies make great bribes for me to get my writing done. Haven’t taught a workshop on this yet, but it may make its way into that ebook if Sheri decides it’s worth including. Thanks for your consistent encouragement, my friend. You’re wind in my sail.

  2. So many gems here. I’m processing them all and know it will take awhile (I’m slow) but I wanted to say that for me this post provoked more thoughts than just 8 reader questions and 8 parts of speech. I’ll most likely share more when it’s time. Beth is right ;)

    1. Thanks, my friend! I love hearing form you, and that you’re still gnawing away on this old writing thing. Processing is slow. Which just means you are an excellent processor! Keep going slow…

  3. I could chew on this for a year, or maybe for the rest of my writing life. Okay, here’s a dumb question, what is third person limited? I probably could google it. Would it work well for a historical fiction? POV is the big bad wolf at my door, would it help to make him go away? I’ve laid my next book aside for awhile, it’s simmering and now and then the aroma pulls me toward it, but I just pinch my nose closed with my fingers and head for my horse!
    XO

    1. Suzee, I’m sorry for my delay! I was preparing a class for a conference… 3rd-p limited is “He went for a walk…his hands shook as he climbed.” That’s the gist, but “limited” in that he can’t look into other characters’ heads or know things he isn’t told or hasn’t experienced himself. You may have a narrator who isn’t the main character to set the scene or something, but this POV largely limits you to only what the POV character can perceive and comment on themselves. Also, you can have multiple 3rd-p POVs in a book, just not in the same scene. There’s a great book on the different options called “Characters and Viewpoint” by Orson Scott Card which helped me, among other more basic books on writing like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Don Maass. You’ve got this–don’t let it scare you off. It’s just a way to define your parameters for readers, so they understand and can relate to your characters! Love – M

  4. Wow. I am blown away by the intricacies of what this means for my writing, but attempting to try to wrap my brain around it. This is a perfect time to start considering my readers, because I have to realize it is not about me, cookie or no cookie…

    1. Appreciate your words here, Denise. And stay tuned for a series on several practical ideas for applying each of these ideas to your process. – Grateful, M

  5. I loved this post Mick! Definitely put this in the book! It is instructive, concrete and easy to follow. The concept is totally my style as an English major. I think all sorts of writers can benefit from thinking of their writing in this way – breaking it down into the questions and parts of speech that make up the entire story. I’m keeping this info in my writing notes for reference! o|–}

    1. Leanne, thank you. I so appreciate your feedback! Much love, my friend, and keep pushing to capture the heart-honest truth in story! -m

Discuss...