Pose an Initial Question Right From the Start

In every good story, the beginning poses a question that finally gets answered in the end. Throughout that entire story, that initial question remains unanswered. The hero’s pursuit of this answer drives the entire story.

In “Tangled,” the hero (Rapunzel) has a goal to see the floating lanterns that she sees every year on her birthday. This desire is what drives Rapunzel to leave her tower and head towards the floating lights.

An initial question posed in the beginning gives a story a direction. Watch a mediocre movie and often they don’t pose an initial question right away. As a result, you have no idea where the story is going and if you don’t know where the story is going, you won’t care what happens.

In “65,” the beginning simply shows the hero on the beach with his daughter, wondering how he’ll tell her how he’s going to leave her for two years. That seems to pose the question of whether the hero will get back with his daughter but that’s not actually what happens.

[SPOILER ALERT] The daughter dies.

Thus what initially seems to be the initial question (getting back to his daughter) isn’t the actual purpose of the story at all. This sets up expectations that the story fails to deliver.

“Inglorious Basterds” is another movie that poses an initial question but fails to answer it. In that movie, a German (known as the Jew Hunter) interrogates a French farmer about the whereabouts of a Jewish family. Gradually, the Jew Hunter breaks down the French farmer’s will and gets him to point out their hiding location underneath the floor boards of the farm house.

That’s when the Jew Hunter directs his men to fire machine guns through the floorboards, killing the Jewish family hiding underneath, except for the daughter, who miraculously escapes, covered in blood as the Jew Hunter taunts her but lets her go.

This sets up the question of whether the daughter will get revenge against the Jew Hunter.

[SPOILER ALERT] The daughter never gets revenge against the Jew Hunter.

In “Tangled,” the beginning poses a question of whether Rapunzel will get to see the floating lanterns and that’s what drives the action throughout the story.

Yet in “65” and “Inglorious Basterds,” the beginning poses a question but that initial question fails to drive the rest of the story. This creates a flawed story.

In the case of “Inglorious Basterds,” the rest of the story is still intriguing and holds our interest, but the overall story is still incomplete because its initial question fails to drive the rest of the story. In “65,” the initial question fails to mean anything after the hero’s daughter dies.

Watch your favorite movies and notice how the beginning poses an initial question that provides the motive for the rest of the story. In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero is a little girl who wants to compete in a beauty pageant so that desire drives the rest of the story until she finally competes in it.

Pose an initial question and then answer it. That’s the simplest way to start creating a well-structured story.

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