The dramatic question – which is also known as the story question – is simply the biggest question implanted in the reader’s mind, and the desire to know the answer to that question is a large part of what keeps her reading.
Curiosity is a powerful emotion, and as writers we need to exploit that.
So, in a murder mystery, the question will be: Will the detective catch the killer? In a thriller the question might be: Will the hero defuse the bomb in time/rescue the hostages/find the secret formula?
In a romance, not surprisingly, the story question could be: Will the lovers get together despite all obstacles?
However, let’s look a little bit further into this.
It’s often fairly obvious that the lovers will get together, the hero will escape/catch the baddie/defuse the bomb etc. (Indeed, the reader might feel cheated if that were not to be the case.)
In this case what the reader wants to know is just how will the protagonist get what he or she wants – i.e. the twists and turns along the way.
If this is done well, and the how is challenging and intriguing enough, then that question will be strong enough to keep the reader’s interest.
And keeping the reader’s interest is always essential. You could say that it’s the number one job of we writers. To be blunt, your reader is always one word away from putting your book down, perhaps never to pick it up again. Your job is – above all – to avoid that happening.
Here are two suggestions:
Introduce the story question early in the story – more details on that are in the section on how you start writing your story.
Make it a big dramatic question. The reader will automatically be much more engaged in finding out if a hero saves the world, than if he manages to find a lost puppy.
As well as the main dramatic question, there will be other questions to keep the reader engrossed in your story. Each story is made up of different scenes, and each scene should have its own small story question: Will they escape from the burning building? Will Joe agree to let Marie go to the dance? Will Tara get Philip to listen to her?
It’s okay that these questions may not be dramatic. Not every question has to be. Indeed, it would probably get very tiring for the reader if that was the case.
But it’s very important that at all times the reader should be thinking, albeit subconsciously, Will x happen? How will this scene turn out?
So do keep that in mind as you write.