This was a shocker.
When working on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, I came across a note:
Sue Coletta: don’t use rhetorical questions. They take you out of the story.
Like all other blanket prohibitions, this one is wrong.
But it sounded good. And I had stored it away for a reason, specifically to make sure I didn’t do something that took my readers out of my stories.
How many rhetorical questions are too many? One? Two? In how much ‘scene’?
I had just finished writing the first scene for one of my main characters, and it seemed a good time to 1) check to see if I had many rhetorical questions in it, and 2) to go back to Book 1, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, and see if I had that problem there, too.
I startled myself: this main character, Kary, had TWENTY-SEVEN rhetorical questions in her new scene. Wow. Certainly too many.
So I check a different main character, Andrew, and found he had a couple. (My scenes have 800-1500 words in them, typically.)
I went back to Book 1 and found Kary had another huge number of rhetoricals in her last scene. Andrew, only had a few in his last scene in Book 1.
And I realized how different I had made these characters in how they talk to themselves – and I didn’t even know I’d done it!
One of my ‘go to’s on my Left Brain righT method is to ‘Become the character’ before attempting to write the character’s next scene. It includes going back and reading that character’s last previous scene, and possibly a few before that, to get into the character’s voice and mannerisms.
This turned out to have a vastly different style in something I prized, the interior life of the character – and I didn’t even do it on purpose.
Characters are different – duh!
I’m not sure whether I’m channeling or inventing these characters.
But it spooked me.
I don’t know when this happened, and yet there it was.
I just knew they were different, and I knew how they were different (from spending years living with them in my head and in my notes), and the characterizations came out by themselves.
I like things like this in my writing, but I always thought I did them deliberately.
About those twenty-seven rhetorical questions that Kary had? I couldn’t change a one.
Sue’s admonition – Don’t ask rhetorical questions because they take you out of the story – needs to be changed.
To: ‘Don’t ask the READER rhetorical questions.’
Because it takes the READER out of the story.
It’s fine for the CHARACTER to ask herself questions without answers. How often? As often as she would do it if she were real.
What is real?
Thanks, Sue. You made me think – and that’s always, uh, interesting.
If you find any of this intriguing, and/or want to see rhetorical questions in action, you can find Kary’s scenes in Pride’s Children at Amazon US, written by the same person who writes these posts. Note: the link leads to the reviews; the product page link is in the right sidebar. Don’t you like to see what other people think about a writer before considering buying?
PS I’m depending on word of mouth right now, as I can either write, it turns out, or market. Or you could go out and find a cure for CFS, so I can do both (might be a wee bit harder).