Writing Tricks: Unanswered Questions

If you’ve ever read a book you couldn’t put down, chances are one of those reasons is because of unanswered questions.

This fun little writing trick usually pops up in parts of dialogue between characters, or as a throwaway sentence wedged in a paragraph that didn’t seem all that interesting until the question’s asked and the story suddenly gets very intriguing.

That fascination is what you want, no matter the type of book you’re writing. It gives your readers a reason to read on and is a simple yet effective tool for your writing arsenal.

Writing Tricks: Unanswered Questions

To add unanswered questions to your WIP, go through each chapter and look for an organic way to raise a question.

Ideally, you’ll want it to fit in with what’s happening in the story and for the reader to be wondering about the question along with your characters. This is where that un-put-downable part of the equation is added to your work.

The questions can range from something small, like where the MC works that requires them to leave their house at 3 a.m. Or be as big as what happened to their childhood best friend who mysteriously disappeared one night five feet from their front door.

Once you’ve worked the questions in, make the most of them by…

Giving Each Question An Answer

One caveat of unanswered questions is that they must be answered. This can be later in the book, the next chapter, or even in another book if it’s part of a series.

If you don’t want to answer the question outright, at least leave enough hints for the reader to work it out. Closure, or the hint of closure, is what you’re aiming for.

Once you’ve dropped those unanswered questions on your pages, not only will they drive the plot forward as the characters look for the answers, but the reader will turn every page to find them too.

Making Some Questions Need-To-Know

If you’re doing it right, your questions will be something the reader wants an answer to, but what you also want are one or two questions that are of a need-to-know nature. Those are the questions that lead to the biggest mysteries in your book.

If you’re unsure which questions to give that kind of heft to, beta readers are excellent people to ask.

Another set of fresh eyes should be able to let you know if an unanswered question piqued their interest, went unnoticed amongst your paragraphs, or made them want to keep reading.

Target the most interesting questions and make sure the reader will not only want to know the answer to them but need to know it.

Answering The Questions Clearly

When it comes to answering the questions, it’s better to be as clear as possible.

What you want is to resolve them so you satisfy the reader and give no doubt about what happened, after all, there’s nothing worse than resolving a question in a way that leaves your readers confused.

That’s not to say you can’t write an answer that’s mysterious if that’s what suits your story, just that there’s a fine line between creating a mystery and creating confusion. Be aware of it when laying down your answers and you should have no problems.

Keeping Track Of The Questions

One final tip is to make sure you keep a list of your unanswered questions. This is especially important if you’re writing a series or a sequel.

With your list, you’ll be able to keep track of the questions and ensure you’ve given them an answer, no matter how big or little the question is.

If your questions are part of a larger story across multiple books, that list will also help you stay on top of your plot and any potential holes. It can even help plan your story if you need to introduce new characters or settings along with your answers.

Unanswered questions might be something you’re already doing or accidentally adding without knowing it was a thing until you came across this blog post. If so, keep it up!

If you haven’t been adding unanswered questions to your WIP, give this simple yet effective writing trick a try and see the difference it can make to your manuscript.

— K.M. Allan

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13 thoughts on “Writing Tricks: Unanswered Questions

  1. Great advice, Kate! I’ve been doing this all along without realizing it’s a “thing”. I like using unanswered questions at the end of a chapter or section as a drama point or in the epilogue to hint at the plot of a future book (series). They are also a great way to set up a character for growth within the story as they work through the answer later on.

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    1. I hadn’t thought much about it until a course I did in January mentioned it and I realised that’s what I love when I read books 😊. Made me want to make sure I have it in my own work too.

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  3. petespringerauthor

    Good piece, Kate. Do you ever write and leave one of the key questions in the hands of the readers to make a supposition? I’ve got one of those questions right now. I haven’t answered every question with my work in progress, and I’m unsure how I feel about that.

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    1. It depends on the question. Sometimes leaving it to the reader to come to their own conclusion works better than any concrete answer I could give. If I can’t answer everything (which is perfectly fine to do) I at least try to give hints. As a reader, I don’t like not having answers, so I try not to do that in my own work, but again, it depends on the question and answer.

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