By Jodie Cain Smith
I admit it. I have a girl crush. And this flame has burned for two decades. So, what dazzling creature gained my unfaltering devotion? Uta Hagen. What has she done to make my heart a’twitter all these years? She created nine simple questions every fiction writer needs to know and answer. Oh, sure, she created the questions for actors, but I find Uta Hagen’s Nine Questions to be as helpful to novel writing as they are on a stage.
If you are staring at a blank screen or have fallen down a rabbit hole without a ladder, or a minor character has hijacked your novel, stop and ask your protagonist these nine questions. The answers are sure to get you back on track and may even fill in some nasty potholes.
1. Who are you? The answer should include all the details that make your protagonist who he or she is, such as name, age, likes, dislikes, physical description, beliefs, hobbies, career, education, enemies, friends, and culture.
2. What time is it? Decide the time period, season, time of day, and year. Then ask yourself the significance of that time. Why does your protagonist’s story need to be set in the time you chose? Could it be told in a different time?
3. Where are you? Country, city, neighborhood, fantasy world with puffy pink clouds and lava for sidewalks are important, but so is the structure, i.e. type of house, size of room, area of room. All of these details will affect the action. And unless your 50,000+ words all take place in one room, you will need to answer this question for each location.
4. What surrounds you? Inanimate and animate objects fill out a space and a scene.
5. What are the given circumstances? The past, present, and future have distinct effects on your story and your main character. If they don’t, make bigger choices, raise the stakes. Everything in your story should affect the main character in some way.
6. What are your relationships? The relationships you give your protagonist to other characters, events, and setting will move the plot forward.
7. What do you want? If your protagonist doesn’t want something, stop writing. Just close your laptop and walk away. Yep, that’s how important goals are. Make sure to choose one big one that trumps all others. Whether or not he or she achieves that goal is the ending, and, for me, the fun part.
8. What is in your way? Okay, maybe this is the fun part. What is the point of creating fiction without obstacles, conflict, and twists and turns?
9. What do you do to get what you want? The answer to this goes deeper than mere plot points and tactics. Ask your character what he or she is willing to do to win. The answer may surprise you.
Nine Questions. It’s that simple. I heart Uta.