234 million years ago, when time converged at a single point, we were all in grade school. Right? Right.
Do you remember when your teacher made you read a book and then gave you a list of discussion questions? Answer these questions, the teacher commanded, or maybe write an essay on one of them, or we’re going to go over these in class on Friday, so be prepared to talk in class with as few ums and uhs as possible.
Was this just me? I don’t think so. Well, it happened all through grade school, and it happened in college too!
While writing essays, talking in front of classmates, and answering the author’s questions can be a total drag, it doesn’t mean it’s not helpful. Here’s how it can be even more helpful:
If you’re writing (or have already written) a book, what would the discussion questions at the end of your book be?
I asked myself this question even before I started writing my current project, The Nameless Queen, and let me tell you something. It made a huge difference in my awareness of my characters. Suddenly, I was thinking about theme and character arcs and social complications instead of just plot a leads to plot b. It made it easier to move forward, because I knew that what I was writing had the potential for a broader social context.
Now that I’m working on the second draft, I’ve actually taken some time to write up those questions.
Writing discussion questions for your own book is a unique experiment in thoughtfulness and creativity. You have to think of your book in a wider light. You have to ask the questions you hope your reader is already thinking. You have to give yourself the space to address points of confusion, contention, and conflagration. (OK, maybe not conflagration, but I needed another ‘con’ word in that sentence, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use fire.)
It’s a challenge, I think, but a challenge worth taking. It makes us think more deeply about our own work. Try to ask questions that would provoke thoughtful answers.
Avoid yes/no questions or questions that read like multiple choice. You’re not trying to test the reader (or yourself) to see if they remember all the details, you’re trying to get your readers to think productively, creatively, and with imagination.
One of the discussion questions I came up with is this: “Like all of the Nameless, Coin picks her own name around age 10. Why do you think Coin picked the name she did? Does it fit her character? If you could pick your own name, what would it be?”
How about you? If your book was sitting in the hands of a reader, what question would you ask them? What would you want your readers to think about at the end of the day?