Story characters never stop asking questions. For them curiosity isnâ€™t a hobby, itâ€™s a survival technique. They've always got big problems to solve and/or survive, and you can't get on top of a problem without asking a few questions.
What's going on?
Am I in serious danger or do I just need new glasses?
What do I absolutely need to know about this problem, even if it gives me a skin rash?
Is there anything I can do about this problem without being arrested?
Do I need help?
Do I need body armour?
What else can I try because that problem-solving strategy didn't work and it's given me a headache and scuffed shoes?
Am I capable of doing something that nobodyâ€™s done before in the whole history of the world to make things better here?
We readers ask questions too. If the character is our new best friend, we ask the same questions they do because we care about their survival and happiness. We might even suggest a few extra ones.
Semtex, is that plastic explosive or chewing gum?
I wonder if the woman in the lolly shop will know?
While we read, we also ask ourselves questions, even if sometimes we're not totally aware we're doing it.
Why is the character doing this?
Would I do it if I was them?
Is there something else I'd do instead that didn't involve so many people seeing my underpants?
Next time you read a story, make a list of six questions you think the main character is asking, even if they're not actually asking them out loud. Hint â€“ sometimes we can get clues about the questions people are asking themselves from the things they do. Or don't do. Or start to do and then stop.
Also, with the same story, make a list of six of the questions you're asking yourself while you're reading the story. Seven, if your first question is:
Why do I have to make this dumb list?
My favourite Ask-The-Question-August-And-All-The-Other-Months Stories-Make-Us-Curious questions are:
Who is telling me this story?
Why are they telling me this story?
What does this story really mean?
I think these are three of the most useful questions around. Because stories aren't just in books. We get told all sorts of stories all the time. Stories with first sentences like:
If you do that, you'll...
Once in a lifetime comes a movie that...
The trouble with people like you is...
Go on, you'll love it, I promise...
You are so...
Stay curious. Ask the questions. And not just in August.