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Answer the questions - all of them!


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When you write a story, you pose story questions. Will the guy get the girl? Will the victim get justice? Whodunit? You had better answer them all by the end of the book or the unresolved feeling will upset your reader (unless a sequel is in the offing). So when you finish your first draft, reread it to see if you failed to tie off all the loose ends.

 

When you write nonfiction, you also pose questions. The book is supposed to teach the reader something and must deliver on its promises. If you (as the writer) don’t, your subconscious may nag you. This summer I put a manuscript about Ecclesiastes to rest for a few months to clear my head. I thought it was done and just needed editing to shorten and polish.

 

I spent the summer studying Matthew. I thought I picked it just because my church is in the middle of a two year sermon series on Matthew and I wanted to pursue some ideas presented by our pastor further. In reality, my subconscious and the Holy Spirit were up to something. I had posed a lot of questions at the beginning of my book about finding peace and a purpose for life that is not vain and meaningless. I answered the questions about peace but failed to answer all the questions about purpose.

 

Consciously, I neither noticed that I was missing answers nor that Matthew was the perfect place to find them. After I concluded my study of Matthew, I decided that my notes could be expanded into two chapters that fit well into my book near the conclusion. After adding those chapters, I still felt like something was missing. I began to reread the manuscript from the start. Several chapters really bothered me. They were well written and made good points, but something was off. 

 

Then it clicked. Ecclesiastes tells you what purposes for life will not satisfy. Matthew tells you how each of Solomon’s purposes - as redefined by Jesus in the Kingdom of God - can be fulfilling. Matthew paints Jesus as the new Solomon teaching a more complete wisdom.

 

Before my study of Matthew, I didn’t know such things about that gospel, at least not consciously. So listen to the nagging voice telling you that something is missing in your writing. Answer all the questions.

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16 hours ago, paulchernoch said:

Answer all the questions.

 

I both agree and disagree, basically because it really depends on the story.

 

For non-fiction, I agree. If you pose a question and fail to answer it, then that can be a problem.

 

For most plots in fiction, it would be appropriate to answer the questions, or as many as feasible. However, I think there are circumstances when the question is best left unanswered. Not often, and even rarer still with the main plot.

 

I wrote a post-apocalyptic novel about a flu pandemic bringing an end to civilization as we know it (written five years before COVID, go figure 😉). The story is written as a fictional memoir of the MC chronicling the terrible anarchy after government order broke down. He takes a moment to address what he calls the great mystery of their age: What happened to the American government? Why did it seem to evaporate so quickly in the panic? He couldn't answer. His viewpoint offered no insight to finally answer a question that had vexed historians for decades after order was restored. 

 

I thought about offering an answer, but determined it best the leave it a mystery. Because not all questions in life come with an answer, or can come with many that seem to contradict each other. But I digress.

 

I think not everything can, or should be neatly wrapped up in a fiction story. Life is full of loose ends.  

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Magic happens when your answers meet the readers' questions, when they ask questions they find in your book that you didn't even think of, and when your questions spur more questions that need more books to answer!

But what a wonderful journey the Lord took you on, @paulchernoch I love to read about your obedience in seeking the Great Questioner and the thrill you got when it all came together. 

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