Monday, July 25, 2022

Big Question, Worksheet 2


List the characters you will need to answer your big question and show each character's function as part of the big question.  Only give general answers.  The specifics will be the next exercise. 

You don't need to name each character.  Instead, you can list them as their function. 


Lt. Hallie is Mara's foil. She's good person who must find the moral courage to fight against what she doesn't believe in.  She is Cadaran's aide.  


Mara's best friend will show the standard social attitude toward men

Big Question, Part 7


As you've seen from the stories I've talked about, your main character must face the Big Question in their own life.  

The Big Question often requires a certain strength or weakness in personality for the main character.  

In TIME AFTER TIME, Justin is a "see the big picture" guy so obsessed with his past that he can't see what's right in front of him.

Rick in CASABLANCA protects himself from a broken heart by pretending cynicism and belief in nothing.  He must first discover the truth of the past and reaffirm his love for Ilsa, then must choose between her love and doing the right thing for her and the fight against the Nazis.  

In AVATAR, Jake Sully is a Marine who believes in what they do and is part of something bigger, and he's lost that because he's lost the use of his legs.  To regain his legs and his life as a Marine, he is willing to spy on and betray the scientists and the Na'vi.  He makes the selfish choice but changes because of his experiences in the movie.

Each has a weakness he must face and correct to achieve happiness and to answer his own BQ.


Once you have your main character/characters, you need to decide on other characters who will reflect elements of your Big Question.

In STAR-CROSSED with its “what do you do when your morality conflicts with an immoral government?” Big Question, I had to create characters to reflect the elements of my question.

One of the characters would represent the power and brutality of the immoral government.  She would be an unstoppable and relentless enemy throughout the novel.  Cadaran, the head of the planet's internal security, was born.

Since Tristan was paired with Mara who would protect him from the harem's evils, I needed an outsider trapped in this horrific system so the reader would see what Tristan is escaping.  

I gave Tristan a best friend, Kellen, who would be Tristan's foil as well as the victim in his stead.  Because Cadaran is the true villain of the piece, poor Kellen becomes her bed slave to be raped and brutalized.

[A foil is a character whose differences highlight a central character.  For example, in HAMLET, rash, impulsive Laertes is deliberate Hamlet's foil.]

Around these central characters, I added important minor characters who would move the plot forward and also reflect my theme as well as being representative of Arden's society.  

Lt. Hallie, Cadaran's aide, is a decent person who admires and loves Cadaran as a great leader, and she sees nothing wrong with the lottery or the harem although she's not blind to the minor power abuses of men as bribes.  

Then Hallie meets Cadaran's bed slave, Kellen, and instead of disliking him as she usually dislikes men, she develops a friendship with him.  Gradually, her eyes are opened to the brutality and evil, but she clings to her duty as an officer with the possibility that she may switch sides if she can find the courage to do so.  

Hallie is Mara's foil because she faces the same moral dilemma that Mara faces, but she keeps failing because she lacks the moral courage that Mara has.

Mara's housekeeper and unofficial grandmother, Novia, hates men as many in this society do and wants to protect Mara against dangerous Tristan.  She will be a spy in their midst unless she can change her views.

Patta, Mara's best friend, is there to represent the standard social opinions about men.  

For an outsider coming in to change the dynamics of the novel and give Tristan a means to escape, I created Dorian, Tristan's close friend and possible lover, who discovers the truth about Arden's slavery, but is unable to accept that anyone from this evil place is on their side. She views Mara as an enemy and will do anything to destroy her.

Notice all the characters, possible conflicts, and plot possibilities I have here just from playing with different aspects of my central question.  

Working with your premise and the three levels of the story is play time for your novel.  Jot things down as you think of them.  Figure out character relationships.  Play with elements of the question.

You also have to keep in mind the audience you are writing for, and the kind of story you are writing.  

Remember that none of this is written in stone at this point.

Now you must decide on your own main characters' strengths and weaknesses.  

Do Worksheet Two

Big Question, Worksheet 1

SCHEDULE NOTICE:  I had intended to send this Worksheet last Tuesday, then Covid happened.  A very mild form, thankfully.  Anyway, today, I'm sending this worksheet, today's lesson, and Worksheet 2.



What genre (science fiction, for example) or book line (Harlequin Intrigue, for example) are you aiming toward? If it is single title (not part of a line), what length?


What is your big question?

What are its two sides?

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Big Question, Part 6


A more intimate version of the Big Question is usually found in romance.  The Big Question revolves around the relationship between the hero and heroine rather than being about large social or historical issues. 

The Big Question "Can illusions about your lover destroy a relationship?" is used in a number of romances including PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and my own TIME AFTER TIME.

One member of the romantic couple will be a victim to his or her illusion of the lover, and the reader and that character will have to decide if illusion is destructive in the face of reality.

In TIME AFTER TIME, my hero Justin remembers all of his past lives, and in each one, his soul mate, who is the same woman.  

In this life, he is so enamored with the different women from his past lives that he fails to see the real woman in this life, fails to see the pain he causes by not loving the present woman, and nearly destroys his chance at happiness.  

Whatever your Big Question, be sure to tie it into the romantic relationship.


I've talked about how I used the Big Question concept to shape my science fiction romance, STAR-CROSSED. In that novel, the hero and heroine are on the same side of the Big Question. Both believe that Arden's government and the harem are corrupt, and they are willing to risk anything to destroy it. 

In my romantic suspense novel, THE GAME WE PLAY, I place the hero and heroine on opposite sides of my Big Question -- After total betrayal, can a person regain their trust? (Trust versus distrust)

Here's the book's premise, courtesy of the book cover blurb:

Schoolteacher Faith Cody thinks she has the perfect summer job as nanny to Nicholas Price's two visiting children, but the children are kidnapped, and she and Nick are compelled to join forces to steal the ransom -- documents incriminating vicious criminals.

As an investigative journalist trained in the ways of the professional cat burglar, Nick has the skill to steal the hidden documents, but their dangerous owner guards the documents well since they prevent his death.

Thrown into this life and death game of betrayer and betrayed, Faith must trust Nick, but Nick is not a man to be trusted. And he seems willing to betray anyone for his children.

Here are my hero and heroine's character histories-- 

FAITH CODY's life has been shaped by betrayal and desertion. When she married Sam Cody over her father's objections, her family disowned her. His own life in crisis, her beloved, weak-willed Sam turned to alcohol and other women. Faith remained loyal until, in an alcoholic fury, he beat and raped her. She left him, and he died soon after. 

Totally alone, Faith became strong and courageous in the face of adversity. She reshaped her life, worked to free herself of the past, and learned how to protect herself so no one could ever physically hurt her like that again.

Avoiding another relationship with a man, she focused her attention on repaying Sam's debts and lavished her great love and loyalty on the children she teaches.

By the time THE GAME WE PLAY begins, she's almost healed from the betrayals of the past, and like a butterfly she's ready to emerge from her cocoon, her heart able to love again. 

NICHOLAS PRICE has also been shaped by betrayal and desertion, but his reaction has been very different from Faith's.   Several years before THE GAME WE PLAY begins, Nick is a respected investigative reporter for a major newspaper. He begins to exhibit erratic and violent behavior so his wife and his lawyer put him in a prestigious sanitarium which was more concerned about protecting the reputations of the families of the mentally ill than in helping their patients.

By the time he emerged eight months later, his wife had married the lawyer who'd put him into the sanitarium, he'd lost custody of his two children to that man, and his job was gone.

Only Nick and a few close friends know Nick's erratic behavior had been deliberately caused by chocolates spiked by hallucinogens. Nick is certain his good friend and lawyer Adam did it to steal his wife, children, and his life.

Formerly a warm, loving, and deeply empathetic man, Nick has emerged from this experience a cynic no longer certain of anyone. He expects the worst of others to save himself the hurt of disillusionment, and he avoids emotional relationships. 

You can see how I've placed my two major characters on opposite sides of my Big Question about trust.

When his children are kidnapped, the ransom is documents on criminal activities.  Nick and Faith must work together to steal those documents.

I also twist the knife on Nick's trust issues by making the man he must steal the documents from his best friend and those documents in the wrong hands will get that best friend killed. In effect, Nick must be the betrayer to save his children's lives. 

I twist the knife on Faith's trust by having their victim be a much nicer and more trustworthy man than Nick is. She must trust the least trustworthy and betray the better man.

In essence, to survive and save the children each must follow a path that is opposite to their experiences, and they learn to understand that other side. 

Do you want your couple on the same side or opposite sides of a Big Question? 

Part of this decision depends on story requirements, but the type of Big Question also helps determine this.

The more personal the Big Question, the more likely the characters will be on opposite sides. The more social or society-oriented the issue, the more likely the characters will be on the same side of the Big Question. This is especially true for issues where many people favor one side. 

In STAR-CROSSED, for example, if I had put the heroine on the side of the government and made her pro sexual slavery, most readers wouldn't have liked her, and the hero certainly wouldn't have fallen in love with her.

She could have changed her view, though, which would have been acceptable, but that wasn't the book I wanted to write. 

Romance and fiction are about conflict so having the hero and heroine on different sides of a complex Big Question will help keep the novel interesting for the reader.

Monday, July 11, 2022

The Big Question, Part 5


These days, novels are more intimate than during other periods.  By that, I mean that readers are more interested in a few people's story rather than the massive epics of days gone by.  

WAR AND PEACE is a great piece of literature, and its very name shows the two sides of the its Big Question--What happens to civilians when they are caught up in nations' struggles?  The characters with viewpoint needed to tell this story and explore the Big Question are numerous, though, and it is easily argued that no character is the hero of the novel.

The same Big Question is asked in CASABLANCA, yet this movie has one main character--Rick, and the life that swirls around him at his cafe in the nebulous area between WW Two war zones reflects the human damage of war -- profiteering, fear, lies, danger, and the need for neutrality when everyone wants you to choose sides.  

The Big Question for Rick is "Do I do the selfish thing to have personal happiness, or do I do the right thing to fight the corrosive evil represented by the Nazis?"

If you've never seen CASABLANCA, I highly recommend it.  The movie is truly deserving of being listed as one of the greatest movies of all time. It is also a classic example of how a story can have a Big Question yet be rich with characters, plot, and depth.


Even though a big novel like WAR AND PEACE isn't to the current taste, a Big Question can still be used on social and historical issues.  CASABLANCA is a good example of that.  

The movie AVATAR is also an excellent example.  If you've not seen AVATAR, DANCES WITH WOLVES and Disney's POCAHANTAS are quite similar in theme and characters. 

The premise of AVATAR is that humans land on a beautiful planet to mine its ore for a dying Earth.  The local people, the Na'vi, are pre-technology along the lines of Native American Indians.  They are cautious with the humans.  

Human scientists create "avatars"-- clones of the Na'vi--which some human scientists inhabit mentally through computer connections.  The avatars allow the humans to interact with the Na'vi as well as survive an environment with air they can't breathe.

The set up is an obvious clash between a natural, noble society and industrial imperialism.  

Cameron chooses the "outsider learning about a new society and reexamining his own society" trope.  Jake Sully is a disabled Marine who controls an avatar meant for his dead twin brother scientist so he's an outsider among the scientists, among the military personnel, and among the Na'vi.  

At first, he follows his training as a Marine by being a spy for the evil Colonel, then he learns to respect the scientists, and later he learns to respect the locals.

As the main character, his Big Question is "What should you do when society and your own sense of morality clash?"

As usual, there's a pretty girl and romance involved.  Neytiri is the Na'vi who must train Jake in all things Na'vi, but the romance is more a reflection of the Big Question than the most important part of the film.

If you've seen the movie, go to the Wikipedia entry on AVATAR and decide how the different characters reflect the Big Question.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Big Question, Part 4


Was there a movie you saw recently that has stuck with you long past the time you walked out of the theater?  Did the characters' emotional dilemmas strike a particular emotional cord with you?

If so, that movie may have given you a Big Question that resonates with you.

Analyze the movie to figure out the Big Question, then consider how you would attack that same Big Question in your novel.

This doesn't mean you should regurgitate the plot and world building of that movie, but that you should find your own way to talk about that Big Question.

The same holds true for a book, play, or TV show.  

I already had my Big Question when I conceived STAR-CROSSED, but I used Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" with its images, language, and situations to help create my Big Question's resonance.


You don't need a Big Question first. Often, I start with a premise then use it to develop my Big Question and the rest of the novel. Here's how I developed STAR-CROSSED.

The plot premise came after I read a novel which used sexual slavery as sexy fun and titillation. Horrified by the book's treatment of women, I had the evil thought--what would happen if men were the sex slaves, not women?

By switching the genders, I would be able to make my points about the inhumanity of such treatment and the corrosive results on a society as a whole. I would also have one heck of a romantic adventure setting on another planet.

Since I had two sides already--slavery versus a free society, I knew I wanted to create a Big Question that would examine it from a narrow angle of one person's choices.

The question I decided on was “What do you do when your morality conflicts with an immoral government?”

Since I was aiming this novel at the romance market, I needed both a hero and a heroine. I asked myself what kind of heroine and hero did I need to tell the story I wanted to tell.

Since women are powerful on this world, the heroine would have to be from this society. She would have to be brave and willing to sacrifice everything for what she believes in, have enormous kindness and sympathy, and be totally ignorant of men. Mara d'Jorel was born.

The hero couldn't be a member of this society because the men on Arden are trained from birth to be protected darlings who don't worry their pretty little heads about anything. 

Something about him, beyond his looks, would have to attract Mara so she would consider taking a sex slave against her moral beliefs. I made him a famous scientist in Mara's field. ("He's not a man, he's a scientist!")

He would have to be worthy of her emotionally by having enormous love, kindness, and courage, but he would need some flaw which would drive them apart. The flaw would somehow reflect the premise of the story.

I decided that he wants a woman to love him for himself, not for his fame, looks, and wealth, and no relationship is more shallow and less likely to go beyond looks than sexual slavery. He would have to be insecure and distrustful of any woman's attachment to him. Earthman Tristan Mallory was born.

In later lessons, I'll talk about how I added other characters, built my world and its history, and created my story arcs.