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Even Pantsers Should Ask Themselves These Questions For Fiction Manuscripts

Sunday, January 14, 2018 1:33
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While judging some flash fiction pieces and critiquing novel chapters for the WOW! class I teach, I found myself asking a series of questions to several different writers. These questions focused on important story elements that were missing from the piece.

This seems to happen a lot in flash fiction, especially, and maybe it’s because there aren’t a lot of words to work with. But winning stories tell a complete tale, and to have a whole story there, these questions have to be answered by the writer and included in the story.

Here are questions to consider, even if you are a pantser, when you’re writing your flash fiction or short story:

  • What is the character’s problem in the story?
  • How does she solve it?
  • How does she grow as a person from solving the problem?
  • Does she have an internal struggle she overcomes (or begins to)?
  • What is the climax of the story?
  • What is the resolution?
Obviously, in a novel, you have to have these same elements. They are usually easier to work in because you have so many more words to include than in a flash fiction or short story. But the beginning of novels are often difficult for writers, especially pantsers, because they start writing with some idea in  mind, but not an outline or carefully planned plot. If you are a pantser, you may know where you are going in your novel, but not exactly how will you get there. So it’s crucial to have the answers to these questions on hand, even if you aren’t outlining or summarizing each of your chapters:
  • What is your main character’s MAIN problem in the novel? 
  • What is the inciting incident (the incident that starts the main problem)?
  • How will the character solve the main problem?
  • What do you envision as the climax of your novel? (Often writers can see the climax scene in their minds, and they are busy writing toward it.)
  • What is the resolution and ending?
These groups of questions are similar because fiction needs to contain certain elements to be a complete story. When writing a longer work, you can also add: What are two or three subplots my novel will also contain? In a flash fiction piece, you definitely would not have subplots. 
So what about you? Are you a pantser? If so, do you know the answers to these questions above for the fiction you are writing?  

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. She teaches a novel course for WOW! each month, which includes 4 critiques of your work-in-progress. To check out more about her, go to To check out her next class starting February 2, go to the WOW! classroom.

Pencil photo above by Pink Sherbert on 

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