Secret to a Thrilling Climax to your Novel - The Question

The Novel Factory Roadmap
When I first learned about The Question, I felt like I'd just been given the keys to the City.

After the Hero's Journey, The Question is probably the most useful tool in the fiction writer's repertoire, and is especially useful for beginning writers, who need a bit more of a formula or roadmap to get them going. Obviously, once you have a firm grasp on how to write a good plot arc, you can deviate more and more from the standard structures and interpret the 'rules' in new and imaginative ways.

But having a starting point, a few rules of thumb to get you going, are invaluable. If you don't know what the Hero's Journey is, then find out, right now. If you do, then it's time to meet The Question.

This article is a short summary of The Question. For the full article, with examples, go here.

What is The Question?

The Question is a moral dilemma that you put to your protagonist somewhere towards the end of the story. By forcing them to make a difficult decision, you put your readers on a knife-edge of 'Will she? Won't she?', as they wonder if the character they've come to know and love (or hate) is made of strong enough stuff.

Can it be any question?

Not really, no. The Question should have two options. If they choose one option (often presented by the villain), then they will have everything they ever dreamed of - riches, love, power, etc. But if they choose the alternative option, they will lose everything and probably be killed or at least thoroughly maimed and shamed.

So, what's the problem? Just choose the good option, right?

Well, to make the ending more thrilling, your job as a writer is to set up the question so that the only way the protagonist can choose option one is betray their principles, probably of honesty or loyalty or something similar. Whereas, if they want to 'do the right thing' that means choosing option two.

So, will you focal character prove their mettle and rightousness even though it means losing everything they've worked for? Or will they give in to the temptation of desire and fold, allowing the baddie to triumph?

The consequences

You can have your protagonist choose either option - there's no law saying they have to do the right thing - though in the majority of modern fiction, this is what happens. However, if you want the story to be satisfying, then you have to make sure the consequences match the choice. This is fiction remember, not real life, and we like good to be rewarded and bad to be punished.

So, whatever decision your hero makes, something unexpected must happen to make sure everything is turned upside down. So if they made the right decision, they triumph, and if they made the wrong decision they get their just desserts.

Click here to read the full article about The Question, including examples, and find out why the reward does not have to be what the protagonist thought it was.