Phrasing questions to experts so you get answers that will actually help you
I went to a tonne of writing workshops over the last year and a half, because lockdown, some with quite famous and talented fantasy/scifi authors, and at the end the teacher asks if anyone has questions.
And the questions people ask completely threw me.
They were like, “Can I use a flashback? Can I use a prologue? Can I write a story in present tense?”
These are not good questions, because that they will not result in usable answers.
It’s like saying “should I use the word ‘huge’?” Well, are you trying to describe something that’s very big? If you’re describing a small thing, you probably shouldn’t. There’s no possible meaningful way to answer that question without the context of where and why they want to use the word.
Anything’s ‘allowed’ if you can make it work. So the question is, how do you make it work? Some better questions you could ask:
- what are prologues for?
- what effect does writing in the present tense achieve?
- how can I tell whether or not to use a flashback?
If you know what effect various techniques have, then you can decide when or if you should use them.
These are all writing-based, but I bet it happens in any field, people asking yes/no questions instead of how/why questions.
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #127 – subscribe to get the next issue in your inbox!
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