An Unanswered Question Defines the Foundation of Every Story

This is the way most writers create a story. They start with an idea and start writing. This inevitably leads to a dead end that they don’t know how to get out of. So they keep adding to the story, creating an even more complicated mess.

Here’s the better way to create a story that defines the entire foundation. Ask a question that doesn’t get resolved until the very end.

By posing a question that never gets resolved until the end, you create the entire foundation of your story because everything in your story works towards answering this question.

In “Die Hard,” the initial question is whether John McClane will get back with his wife or not. The entire story then revolves around John McClane trying to get back with his wife but the only way he can do that is by defeating the army of terrorists who have taken over the skyscraper.

What happens if you don’t pose a question in the beginning? Then your story literally has nowhere to go. With no direction, your story can go anywhere, which is basically the flaw of many bad and mediocre movies.

Watch “The Marvels” and ask yourself what’s the initial question that gets answered in the end. (Hint: There is no initial question, so the story lacks direction and focus. This creates a flawed story.)

Another type of flawed story occurs when a story poses an initial question and then fails to resolve it. In “Inglorious Basterds,” the initial question is whether the villain (a Nazi commander nicknamed the Jew Hunter) will find and kill a Jewish girl.

Yet this Jewish girl gets killed in the end by a different German soldier, and the Jew Hunter winds up getting tortured by American soldiers. So the beginning doesn’t quite match the end, creating a less than perfect story.

Pick a favorite movie and look for this initial question that gets resolved in the end. In “Star Wars,” Luke Skywalker wants an adventure. By the end of the story, he’s saved a princess and stopped the Death Star, so he finally gets to live the adventure he craved since the beginning.

In “Titanic,” Rose wants to get out of an arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t love. By the end of the story, she finally manages to get away from him and live her own life.

Every initial question should always get resolved as close to the end of the story as possible. Every story is nothing more than getting the hero closer to resolving this initial question.

In “City Island,” the hero is a prison guard who discovers that his son, who he abandoned before he was born, is in the prison. Now the unresolved question is whether the hero will finally admit to his son that he’s actually his father.

To plan your story, decide on the initial question to pose and then how your story resolves that initial question in the end. Just this simple act of posing an initial question and answering it in the end will go a long way towards keeping your story focused.

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