Thursday, May 1, 2014

See What I Mean About Rhetorical Questions?

Many writers pepper interior monologue with rhetorical questions. They are a natural construct because it takes time for protagonists to figure out the plot’s mysteries. Stating a character’s confusion as a question avoids the “I wondered” construct which puts a degree of separation between the reader and the character. Simply stating what the character wondered (or felt, saw or smelled) is more direct. 

Rhetorical questions can be overdone. A fellow attendee at a writing workshop removed all of the rhetorical questions from her novel and cut 2500 words. Writers tend to pile up rhetorical questions when a character is unsure, resulting in an overstatement of the problem. The reader understands that the character is confused after the first question. Adding three or four more is redundant. 

Rhetorical questions can be effective if employed with a light hand. Use the search function in Microsoft Word to locate question marks in your manuscript. For every question that isn’t part of dialog, consider whether it can be cut or rephrased as a statement. 

Please also see Mary Kole’s insightful post on rhetorical questions.


Kristin Lenz said...

Good reminder - thanks! I have a tendency to overdo these questions - either it's repetitive and I can cut some of them like you mentioned. Or sometimes I need to make the character ask the question aloud and show through dialogue or action to move the story forward rather than spending so much time in my character's head.

Erin Fanning said...

Excellent advice! So easy to overuse the questions. Thanks!