Monday, May 13, 2013

Stop Asking So Many Questions!

Blake Snyder writes, "The hero knows and others around him look to him for answers, not the other way around. if you see a lot of question marks in your hero's dialogue, there's a problem" (SAVE THE CAT, p. 146).

So ... "a lot of question marks" ... how many does that equal exactly?

I took the challenge. I use the find feature in Word and discovered my WIP had 900 (exactly) question marks. Now, granted, not all of those were used by my main character, but I took it further and went through the entire ms with a fine tooth comb.

Of those 900 question marks, 511 belonged to my MC. Yikes. That's probably what Snyder meant by "a lot."

HOWEVER, to my defense, not all of those question marks were in dialogue. A LOT were in her inner monologue. Is that better or worse?

Well, again, upon further examination, I discovered that most of those questions she asked silently to herself were completely unnecessary. I could delete them without changing the meaning of the paragraph, scene, chapter, or plot. *sigh*

I also discovered that many of the questions in her dialogue could be altered to be said as a statement rather than a question, which resulted in a much stronger voice coming from my MC.

After cleaning up the ms, I had eliminated 123 questions - all from my MC. Is that enough? I don't know, yet.

I'll make another pass through the ms and have another beta reader take a look.

What do you think? Does your MC ask a lot of questions? Do you think that's a bad thing?


  1. I own SAVE THE CAT but must have glossed over this one! My agent was the one who pointed it out, basically that whenever my main character asked a question about her own emotions or about the plot, to remove it. A few instances I tried to reasonably explain until I realized, it still worked better to actually show her feeling something or being proactive. For me, I remember adding in some of those questions because I saw another writer do it, but essentially it's lazy writing. It really does read better without all the questions, especially the internal ones.

    I'll have to return to Save the Cat and do some sleuthing in my new MS :)

    1. Also to add on, like you mentioned you can take out the Q without altering the meaning of the paragraph. Often I found the questions were redundant, or they felt intended to lead a reader to a conclusion they most likely could get to themselves. That revelation opened up other things for me to watch for: overly explaining narrative that a reader could get from simply following the dialogue and the character's reaction. It's not necessary for the character to then recap for the reader. The Qs and recaps kind of go together.

  2. I'm going to have to go through my WIP and check that out.

  3. Interesting. I also have Beat the Cat but I didn't think of doing this. Thanks for the tip.

  4. So MC had the same problem. Now I watch question marks like a hawk. I she really that clueless, I had to ask?

  5. I've heard of not using to many exclamation marks, but never to stop asking too many questions. I guess that's another thing I need to look for in my ms (sigh).

  6. Yes, I heard that you should read out the sentence as an exclamation. If it isn't an exclamation, don't use a !

    Too many questions, now that is a thought... Unless the MC is a detective ;O)