The Biggest Mistake You Can Make Using Questions In Your Writing

Yesterday I read an interesting blog post by Mary Kole on how not to use questions in your writing.  Specifically, she was warning against using rhetorical questions.

A rhetorical question is any question where you don’t expect an answer.  Parents are famous for rhetorical questions.  Do you want me to give you a reason to complain?

Umm . . . no?

Kole points out that many writers use rhetorical questioins in a lazy attempt to get information across to the reader.  They ask questions like:

  • Would he ever be able to eat pork-n-beans without thinking of his lost love?
  • Could he rely on the evil magic user to keep his promise?
  • Why did entering the arena and hearing the roar of the crowd make him anxious?

Okay, those are my own slightly off examples.  We use questions instead of coming up with three or four solid sentences the communicate something important.

Mom though pork-n-beans were still Kendrick’s favorite, but he had hated them ever since he had found the gate open and Patches missing.  It just wasn’t the same without her bumping his elbow asking for a taste.

I hope you’ll take the time to click on the link above and read Kole’s post.

She isn’t saying that you should avoid using questions entirely.  Which is excellent because as I was reading her piece I thought of The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree.  The three young bears explore inside a spooky old tree. Throughout the story the author asks a question – Do they dare?  What they dare varies throughout the book.  “Do they dare go into the spooky old tree? ” Then comes the answer.  “Yes.  They dare.”

Please bare with me if I’ve misquoted the book.  I’m working from memory here.

But the question and answer becomes a chorus or a call and response.  The adult reader says “Do they dare (whatever)?” and the young listener knows what is coming next.  “Yes, they dare!”

Questions can be an effective way to engage the reader, but not rhetorical questions.  Those you simply need to avoid.


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