Writers are taught to ask “Who, What, When, Where, Why & How” to help put together a story, novel, or memoir. What about revising what we write?
Over time I’ve found that scenes can be fixed fast by asking “What?”
“What?” applies equally to action, dialogue, characterization, and more. What is going on emotionally and physically? What is being talked about that matters?
“What?” helps you revise and elevate your pages instantly.
An easy illustration of the effect of “What?” is to look at television series in any genre, including situation comedies, cop shows, family dramas, and any favorite of yours. Think about the characters asking these questions of others and HOW those questions get answered:
“What ARE you doing?”
“What’s going on here?”
“What are we going to tell the D.A.?”
“What are we going to do next?”
“What’s this I hear about you leaving me?”
“What your hurry, buddy?”
The question “What?” heralds readers and viewers to a situation that cannot be ignored. It can help you develop an opener or hook that is currently flat.
“What?” can help you stem the tide of “passes” from agents or publishers. Lackluster scenes and dialogue are popular reasons for passes. Check your scenes and revise:
What’s going on that’s interesting enough?
What’s clichéd? Boring?
What questions does my protagonist ask? Would “What?” questions provide more fun or intrigue?
What action is missing or too much?
What in this scene gives readers the scene goal?
“What” is also handy for building a better cliffhanger for a scene or chapter. Here’s a made-up chapter ending:
Henry rose the next morning, soon peering out his
kitchen window. He flinched. What the heck was
that thing [fill in blank or not] in his driveway?
Stop your scene or chapter there. Let readers turn to the next page to find out WHAT is in the driveway. Or, replace “that thing” with what you have in your plot: Upset lover? A long-lost father returned? An elephant in the driveway? A starship?
“What?” questions tickle a reader’s curiosity and imagination.
“What?” creates reader engagement.
“What?” is one simple technique that helps a writer dig deeper, polish like a pro, and have rewarding fun.