What’s in a question?

Who, what, where, when and why. These are the beginnings of interrogative sentences. They are a type of sentence that requires an answer and always ends with a question mark. They are best used in dialogue and often called questions.

Unless I’m writing in the first person I try to avoid interrogative sentences in the narrative. Mostly because I write the in the third person and narrative questions come off as rhetorical and out-of-place. In the first person, they fit better because a rhetorical question is easy to read as the characters’ thought.

There are four types of Interrogative sentences to be used.

The yes-no
The alternative
The Wh-
The Tags

The yes-no are questions that elicit a yes or no answer.

Dale popped his head around the desk divide. “Hey, Amber did you take your vitamin?” 
“Yes.” She scowled. “Do you have to nag?”
“Yes.” He smiled and kissed her forehead quickly. “Yes, I do.”

or

“Dale are you ready to go?” Amber tapped her foot on the tiled floor.
“Yes, I am.”

or

“Scott do you have that proof ready?”
He ran his hands through his hair. “No.”

The alternative – Are sentences that can result in two or more answers.

Dale smiled at Amber. “Do you want Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or all three?”
“All three… Ooh and butterscotch.”

or

“Should I finish this now or later?” Scott looked up at Valery.
“Hmm. Later.” She tapped her chin. “I need you to run the reports first.”

Wh-  they are sentences that have the Wh- words. Who, what, where, when and why. They force an open answer that is not a yes or no. 

“Ouch, he’s hot. Who was that?” Jeannie asked quietly as Detective Thorn passed their desk.
Amber rolled her eyes. “Ugh, the detective who’s looking for Sasha.”
“Why is he looking for her?”
Amber shrugged. “She’s MIA and in trouble or something.”
“What did she do?”
“Nothing, I think that crazy face slasher guy is after her.”
Jeannie frowned. “That’s scary.”
“Very. I’m not a fan of Sasha, but I hope she’s okay.”

Last but not least are Tag questions. A declarative sentence with a question tagged on at the end. It leads to a yes-no or sometimes a statement answer.

“You finished that proof, didn’t you?”
“Yes.”

or

“You finished that proof, didn’t you?”
“I ran out of time, but it will be done first thing in the morning.”

or

“It’s dark out already?”
“Yup.”

or

“It’s dark out already?”
“And has been for two hours.”

Questions or interrogative sentences keep things going, they get the readers’ wheels turning. In dialogue, they can be key to keeping things from becoming boring. It’s also natural.

In the narrative, it can become tricky.

Third person.

“I‘ll get it, Scott said as he jogged up the stairs. Why was he always the one to have to go? He scowled at the thought.

While this can feel natural when written because the words I write come from inside my head, it’s not the best way to express that.

“I’ll get it,” Scott said and scowled as he jogged up the stairs. He went because nobody else ever did. 

There better. Let me try another.

“Seriously Dale I need you to stop.” Amber swatted his hand away. Why was he always so annoying after work?

This comes across as the first person but the story is third. Let me try again.

“Seriously Dale I need you to stop.” Amber swatted his hand away. He was always more annoying after work. 

Now when in the first person to start with a narrative question might not be so bad.

I walked into the room and felt instantly at home. Why? I had no idea.

Still, I would probably change that too.

I walked into the room and instantly felt at home; I have no idea why.

or

I have no idea why I felt instantly at home when I walked into the room.

I can’t write dialogue without questions of one kind or another, it’s necessary because it’s realistic. My fault lies in the questions I dump into the narrative. I have to stop and ask myself, does it belong there? Is it actually ‘inner thought’ of the character or am I being rhetorical in my own mind’s voice? Chances are I need to rephrase that narrative.

My advice about interroragtive sentences in writing.
Advice is only that, advice. Should you keep interrogative sentences and questions in the narrative of a story? Only you can answer that, I don’t like to. Let me ask you. “Should it be in dialogue?” I’d answer, “Yes, yes it should.”

-Sheryl

Other grammar-ish posts

Hey! Its’ Interjection

Word swap

It’s not, not negative

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved

Wheel

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

I have recently become aware of a type of cliche writing. Over used scenarios and set ups in writing.

When describing a persons appearance no writer, including myself wants to be dull, boring or give a marathon list of aesthetic traits as one would find on a manifest. So we try to get clever and look for ways to make it more real or feel more plausible to the reader.

One that I know I’m guilty of is the use of a mirror to describe a character. Whether in first person or third, this is a tired over used way to do this. Mirror descriptions are tricky because the perspective can go wrong real fast. In and out of the characters head we go. I’ve done this I’ll admit it. I wont anymore and you can bet I’ll be going back to remove this tired method.

Here is what its like in first to use a mirror.

I spat out the toothpaste into the sink and looked up at my reflection in the mirror. My dark brown eyes were lined and tired. My two day old stubble needed a shave and my bed head was out of control making my black hair disheveled.

And a better way in first without the mirror.

I spat out the toothpaste and wiped a dribble from my itchy stubble covered chin. I ran my hands through my messy black hair before splashing cold water on my face. I rubbed my tired dark brown eyes; it was going to be a long day.

Here is a short example of what using a mirror is like in third person.

Scott spit out the toothpaste and raised his head to look at his reflection in the mirror. His dark brown eyes were lined and tired. His black hair was mussed from sleep and he needed to shave his two days worth of beard growth. 

Here is a better way to describe the same features in third without a mirror.

Scott spat out the toothpaste and wiped a dribble from his itchy stubble covered chin. After running his hands through his messy black hair he splashed water over his, face and rubbed his dark brown eyes.

No matter how I look at it, removing the mirror made for better describing. As long as I work the features in with actions it’s way better than listing them off. And a lot less lazy IMO. I look to find better ways to describe anything without resorting to the classic, ‘he had black hair, as stubble covered chin and tired dark brown eyes.’  I think we can all do better than that.  After all we are offering our readers an invitation to take part in the story not read a recipe.

My advice about mirrors as a descriptive tool.
Who’s the fairest of them all? Tell me without listing what you see please. A bad writing habit we can break without the 7 years bad luck.

-Sheryl

Other descriptive posts

Paint a desperate picture

Details, details, details

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

Aesthetic
Invitation
Marathon