Six Essential Questions For Writing

six essential questions for writingEmmy-winning screenwriter, script doctor, and writing coach Glen Gers sums up twenty-five years experience with his six essential questions for writing. Don’t look away; Gers’ rules apply to any writing of fiction, documentary and even non-fiction not just to screenwriting.

When it comes to writing rules, you’ll find many opinions. There are no rules; there are lots of rules; ignore the rules at your peril; rules don’t matter, only execution.

Glen Gers cuts through all of that debate and tests any script using his six essential questions for screenwriting. “If you can’t answer these six questions, you don’t have a story,” Gers says over on the Film Courage channel.

The six questions are:

  1. Who is it about?
  2. What do they want?
  3. Why can’t they get it?
  4. What can they do about it?
  5. Why doesn’t that work?
  6. How does it end?

Questions of Craft

If you’ve followed some of my previous posts, you can see this neatly encapsulates a lot of other craft advice. Gers’ six questions overlay directly onto some of the things I’ve talked about:

Gers’ questions are really useful in getting to the core of defining the story.

Just because you can answer them, that doesn’t mean you have a story that works. Or engages. Or entertains. Six answers only indicate you have a complete, working story.

Put six answers in a list and you get either a full picture or fragments of a story.

The character might be insufferable, their wants selfish beyond measure; the obstacles may be absurd and their decisions illogical. Their failures may have no consequences and the ending altogether cliched, pat and underwhelming.

Application

Let’s try it with my current work in progress.

  1. Who is it about?
    Jovanka, a Seer; Varla, a legendary assassin from the war
  2. What do they want?
    She wants to find him to be her help-mate and security. He just wants to kill the undefeated Vipers.
  3. Why can’t they get it?
    They are hunted by the Empire and other adversaries
  4. What can they do about it?
    Try to find sanctuary to hide, or try to defeat the Vipers
  5. Why doesn’t that work?
    The Emperor’s Tracker comes after them along with the Vipers. There’s no hiding and no way to win a fight with a hundred fully armored, experienced and ruthless soldiers
  6. How does it end?
    In a climactic battle with the Tracker and the Vipers, where Jo and Varla are aided by old and new allies (no spoilers).

I can expand those six answers to several paragraphs each, in order to build a more detailed synopsis of the book.

Does my story work? Using these six questions as a check-point, yes. Does my story work? Only if the characters, plotting, pacing and description keep the readers engaged to the end. How to do that is a seventh question that takes a lot longer to answer.

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