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Using Questions to Engage the Audience

What technique is guaranteed to engage viewer interest? Dangle a carrot. For a carrot, create a question to dangle in people's minds that will be answered if they keep watching or reading. In prose, this is simply the technique of starting the subject with a question, as I did in this paragraph. In entertainment writing, movies and novels, there are several techniques for posing questions.

Create mystery. Who done it? Whether the story is a mystery, or not, the element of mystery can be added to any story to create more interest and engage the audience.

The most common type of mystery is the "Who done it?" But there are many other mysteries. For example, there are mysteries about life, such as, "Will we ever get out of this town? Will I ever find someone to marry? Will I ever conceive? Can I ever get over this?"

Another mystery can be the mystery person. Not the "Who done it?" but the mysterious benefactor, or the identity of the person in the background sponsoring some criminal activity.

Similarly, the unknown allegiance can add mystery. "Who is this character allied with, the good guys or the bad guys?"

Create suspense or anticipation. "When is it going to happen?" Suspense is created by foreshadowing an event so that the audience anticipates that something is going to happen, but doesn't know when. The main character is usually unaware that something is going to happen, so the audience is aware of danger in every situation.

Contests always pose the question, "Who will win?" Contests may also pose the question, "How can he possibly win?"

The most basic question posed by a story is simply the plot. The plotting should make the audience question very early, "How will this come out?" If that question isn't there, then examine the story to see if the plot is weak and the story is simply a relating of events.

Obstacles. Similarly to the plot, obstacles also raise the question, "How will the immediate problem be resolved?"

Motivation. For most characters, the motivation should be obvious to the audience. But occasionally it creates a question mark when a character's motivations are unknown.

Images. Images can be an effective way of revealing questions. Images can be used to show the monster lurking; show a problem coming, such as an antagonist overhearing a conversation; show a picture of something unusual and puzzling; or show clues to the mystery.

For more on mystery and suspense, see Genre: Mystery and Suspense.

- Scott

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