How To Write a Story Question

What is a Story Question?

The Story Question—sometimes called the Story Problem—is the core question to be answered in the story.

Answering the Story Question is the goal of the primary plot line. It’s what drives the characters to act as they do. It’s the story’s catalyst–essentially, why the story exists.

The Story Question itself may never appear in the story as an actual question, so why is it important to identify it? Because it provides a goal, and a goal offers the characters a path for action. Without a goal, characters will wander willy-nilly. No one wants to read willy-nilly.

Once the Story Question lays out the path ahead, the writing should follow it. Use the Story Question as an aid to stay on track. If any portion of your work in progress is not directly or indirectly tied to the Story Question–through the plot,  a character’s background, or a situation in the setting–it probably does not belong in the story.

Writing out your Story Question, and maybe putting it a prominent place as a reminder, can keep you from meandering.

Here’s a sampling of Story Questions, by genre:

For a mystery, a Story Question might be: “Who killed JR?”

For a thriller, a Story Question might be: “Who is trying to kill JR?” or “Why is Whoever trying to kill JR?”

For a romance, a Story Question might be: “Can JR overcome his emotional baggage and find love?”

For a romantic suspense, a Story Question might be: “How will JR survive this conflict while falling/staying in love?”

For an quest, a Story Question might be: “Can JR locate the last two legendary googoomama birds and save the species from extinction?”

For an adventure story, a Story Question might be: “Will JR and his young son survive a plane crash in the Sierra Nevada Mountains?”

For a women’s fiction novel, a Story Question might be: “Can JR save her drug-addicted sister without ruining her own life?”

For a middle grade novel, a Story Question might be: “Can JR befriend the mean girls without becoming one?”

For a YA novel, a Story Question might be: “Can JR pursue his musical talents despite his family’s disapproval?”

For a young reader novel, a Story Question might be: “Can JR outsmart the bully on the bus?”

For a non-fiction, a Story Question might be: “How can JR’s personal journey in this subject help others?”

{JR is unisex, by the way.  Always up to something.}

By the end of the story, the Story Question should be answered fully, logically, and hopefully in a way that allowed the characters to grow and the reader to be entertained and emotionally satisfied.

Have you identified a Story Problem that lays out the path for your work in progress?


Tomorrow’s topic – How To Write a Thematic Statement