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How Book Club Questions Can Help The Author As She Writes

My experience with book clubs has been enjoyable, but as guides to reading fiction, they’ve tended to go off the point. Depending on the quality of the food, or let’s just blame the wine (both always necessary!), the discussion meanders into participants' marital problems, politics, or neighborhood gossip. Great, bonding evenings. Many book groups have lasted for years. It matters little if participants like the book or pan it, the novel is often just the excuse for getting together. That’s all wonderful, and was for me, too, until a friend suggested me that being a writer must spoil the experience of reading, because it would become too analytical. Not true. I can get swept up in the power of good prose just as much as I ever did. It’s just that now I know that every sentence did not get there by magic – it was planned. Now that I review fiction and try to write it as well as I can, I’ve found that “book club questions” (for those that actually ask them) really help in thinking about a novel. I found these from a site called The most interesting thing for me as a writer, is that these questions sharpened my thinking about how to put a story together, or at an even earlier stage, how to pre-write a novel. questions 1, 4 and 7 are questions only the reader can answer. But as a writer I can see I have to ask questions 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 before I even put a word to paper. Do these questions help you in figuring out how a novel works? 1. How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take you a while to “get into it”? How did you feel reading it—amused, sad, disturbed, confused, bored…? 2. Describe the main characters—personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities. • Why do characters do what they do? • Are their actions justified? • Describe the dynamics between characters (in a marriage, family, or friendship). • How has the past shaped their lives? • Do you admire or disapprove of them? • Do they remind you of people you know? 3. Are the main characters dynamic—changing or maturing by the end of the book? Do they learn about themselves, how the world works and their role in it? 4. Discuss the plot: • Is it engaging—do you find the story interesting? • Is this a plot-driven book—a fast-paced page-turner? • Does the plot unfold slowly with a focus on character? • Were you surprised by complications, twists & turns? • Did you find the plot predictable, even formulaic? 5. Talk about the book’s structure. • Is it a continuous story… or interlocking short stories? • Does the time-line move forward chronologically? • Does time shift back & forth from past to present? • Is there a single viewpoint or shifting viewpoints? • Why might the author have chosen to tell the story the way he or she did? • What difference does the structure make in the way  you read or understand the book? 6. What main ideas—themes—does the author explore? (Consider the title, often a clue to a theme.) Does the author use symbols to reinforce the main ideas? (See the free LitCourses on both Symbol and Theme.) 7. What passages strike you as insightful, even profound? Perhaps a bit of dialog that’s funny or poignant or that encapsulates a character? Maybe there’s a particular comment that states the book’s thematic concerns? 8. Is the ending satisfying? If so, why? If not, why not… and how would you change it? Thanks, for putting together this thoughtful list!

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