Are Reader Questions Helpful?

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After my first avid reading friend told me she had made a vow not to read fiction until the end of the year and hoped by then her desire to read fiction would be gone for good, my thought was, I would never try to convince my friend she should read fiction if she has a conviction against it. I know my life would be very dull without fiction.

Because I could see a reason to relieve any guilt other Christians might have about reading fiction, I became interested in the discussion questions in the back of some of my Christian friends’ novels. They always seemed to reveal the author’s motives in writing that particular story. The questions bring out the growth in the characters as they lived through the events of the story, and as they became better people.

In asking around about lessons on writing reader questions … what type of questions to ask, I learned some of my author friends are required to write the questions but admit they never read them and don’t know why they are asked to provide them.

I never found those lessons. So, I’m not sure how I did it, but I came up with 9 questions for the back of my book.

Last week a writing friend stopped in. I had one proof copy of my book left. A few years back she was writing fiction and it was awesome. Her words take on a lyrical quality. In fact she wrote the most awesome story I have ever read about the murderer Barabbas who was spared crucifixion at the time our Lord was sacrificed for our sins. So I know at one time she understood the place of Christian fiction in our lives.

She took the book knowing it was fiction, but thinking she could read it—for me. And she did give me some points and suggestions for three different changes, which I appreciated. But she couldn’t get past chapter eight because to her it read like a romance. And she had decided a few years ago that reading romance stories were not good for her mind. In fact she has not read fiction at all for several years. So of course she never made it to the discussion questions. I did not know my friend had quit reading fiction when I asked her to read it. And I did not try to convince her to finish it.

Earlier, my sister read a PDF copy of this story, and her words to me were: “Thank you for letting me read your book. At first I thought, ‘Oh dear, this is a Harlequin Romance’—but as the story progressed I realized it wasn’t. I cried when [unnamed character] died. I was on the edge of my seat while Birdie was running through the tunnel. I could picture it all. You have several subplots that make it interesting, but more important, you have several messages about Christian living.”

I’m still trying to come up with a basic template for discovering how to write the best discussion questions for any given book. Do you have any suggestions?

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13 thoughts on “Are Reader Questions Helpful?

  1. Sharon, I agree with you in not thinking at you should try to change your friend’s mind in regards to reading fiction. If they feel led to stay away form it, then who am I to say they’re wrong? But, I for one, would be most miserable indeed if I didn’t have fiction to read. So many times, a fiction book wi a fantastic Christian lesson can go where preachers aren’t allowed or welcomed. I know of several ladies who feel the same. When their ears were closed to the minister, their ears were opened by a book with a message.

    Those discussion questions in the back, I read them. I want to know why the author wrote the book – what their intention was, what lessons can be learned from it, etc. I find those as a private peek into the author’s mind and heart. As for a template, I have no suggestions other than to meditate on the story and what you’re trying to get across. I, as a reader, love to know the little details about characters – why did they do what they did, those type of things.

  2. Interesting post! I usually skip the discussion questions–after reading classics like a fiend for years, I feel like I’d be a complete dolt if I had to read the questions to figure out themes. BUT I do read author bios and author notes. I love feeling connected to the author.

    And I have somewhat of a compunction against most modern romance, too. I read it when I’m reading books my author friends have written, but it’s not something I tend to pick up. I can’t stand men who talk like best girlfriends (Hallmark channel has the corner on this!) and not like men. Men don’t always know the right words to say. They also don’t come at life like women do. I hope to capture that with my writing–those real-life men who are enigmatic and irresistible BECAUSE we can’t understand what they’re thinking all the time.

    Long story short, I admire your friend for her convictions. Still, I know many women love romance and don’t feel compunctions about it. Just like some read for entertainment, while others read for philosophical value or real-life traumatic situations. We’re all different!

    • Thank you for your words of wisdom. We are all different. And I praise God for that! How dull this world would be if we were all the same. Some of us would not be needed.

  3. I’m not sure if reader questions are helpful. I was not asked to write them for my novels. However, I do think they would provide insight into the author’s thought process.

    What I found more interesting about your post was those who had sworn off reading fiction. I’m not sure who said it but it goes like “If you hate reading books, you’re not doing it right.”

    Especially romance. Now, I’m not big in romance but I do understand the point of the genre. Boiled down, the Bible is one big romance. God’s everlasting love for us.

    Interesting points.

    • An interesting point is eons ago when I first began to write this story, I did not plan to have a romance in it at all. Because to me there is more to life than romance. My own mother said “Oh, you have to have romance in it.” Mom was not an avid reader like my dad, but she did belong to some book clubs. And really, romance is a part of life. So yes, the story does have some romance in it. And the love of God, the love or parents, the love of siblings, etc.

      And I agree, those who have sworn off reading fiction distress me. Because I see God at work in Christian fiction. But … different strokes for different folks.

  4. I cannot imagine a world with no fiction. I wouldn’t even want to try. I don’t believe God intended for us to be without story. In fact, Jesus made use of story to illustrate characteristics of God. Did the Prodigal Son really exist or was it fiction to make a point? He never really says. I learned more history through fiction than I did in school. Even better, I learned the IMPACT of history on lives through fiction. I am forever grateful. Fiction touches us deeply in ways non-fiction can’t. Why vow not to read it unless you are reading fiction that turns you away from God?
    And even if it doesn’t have some deep spiritual enlightenment attached, what is wrong with a moment of escape? I recently spoke with a woman who felt very far from God. Her life has never been easy and now she is forced to be the 24-hour-a-day caretaker of someone who is not very nice to her. She loves her moments of escape into a good book and relishes those times of the day when she can partake. Knowing this, I counseled her to praise God at that moment when she can release all her burdens and fall into another world. She answered, “Yeah, I like that. It’s my favorite time of the day and I can really feel thankful then.” Hearing her voice change dramatically from one of complaint, to one of joyful worship at the thought of reading fiction, I could see how important those books were to her. No great lesson learned or reason for growth. Just a light in the darkness. There’s something to be said for that.
    Today on my “Living the Body of Christ” blog is the story of how a song from the Christian rock band, Third Day, kept a man from committing suicide and turned him back to God. Another example of how the arts can be used to bring God Glory and impact lives!

    • It goes without saying that I agree with you. A world without fiction would be very dull indeed. And Jesus and the Bible introduced the first story as far as I know.

  5. I made a comment earlier on where I referenced a book I am writing that includes chapters on questioning and other communication processes which are one of the central themes of this post. If anyone who posts on this blog would want to read one of those chapters, I would be glad to send it to you for free. The first one is 16 pages long and entited “Should” and “Buts” and More Questioning”. Just email me as dcogswel@radford.edu and request the above and I will attach it right to you. It is copywrited material and am sure that all know what that means. Dennis

  6. Sharon, even though I’m a nonfiction writer, I LOVE fiction!!! And I believe in the power of Christian fiction. In fact, my daughter-in-law, a PK (preacher’s kid), accepted Christ after reading The Shack. Btw, didn’t Jesus use parables to communicate the gospel? Oh … and I look forward to reading your book and your questions at the end!

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