Pointers for Writing Book Discussion Questions

by | Writing | 15 comments

image by geralt

image by geralt

Before you write your discussion questions that appear at the end of your book, keep in mind the viewpoints of book clubs and of authors/publishers.

Book Club Viewpoint

 

image by Unsplash

image by Unsplash

Book clubs care about the following elements for discussion:

  • Readers’ expectations
  • Author’s presence (intrusion, world view, reason for writing book)
  • Enjoyment (how quickly engaged, recommendable)
  • Themes/messages (importance, relevance to reader)
  • Plot (credibility, predictability, page turner, formulaic, twists)
  • Characters (relatable, admirable, real, believable, likeable, memorable, how they change, how their pasts affect them, their new awareness/perspective)
  • Actions (plausible)
  • Setting (importance, as a character, representation of culture and era)
  • Symbols (metaphors, significance)
  • General feeling (amused, sad, disturbed, confused, bored)
  • Book structure (chronological, number of point of views, interlocking short stories, narrative devices, flashbacks)
  • Ending (as readers expected, readers’ satisfaction)
  • Comparisons to author’s other books

Author/Publisher Viewpoint

 

Authors draw from the book-club viewpoint. They’re interested in leading readers and book club members through engaging, meaningful discussions so readers will:

  • image by StartupStockPhotos

    image by StartupStockPhotos

    enjoy the story and characters again;
  • understand how characters changed and how this might help readers grow or have a new perspective;
  • find moments in which readers related to characters or situations; and
  • express their concerns, delights, thoughts, differences of opinion, and emotions.

Tips to Create a Discussion Question

 

1a.  State succinctly a story instance concerning a character, social issue, or event.

1b.  Ask readers how they understood the instance, how they would have reacted or done something differently, how their opinions changed when they learned more, and/or to give similar instances in their lives.

2.  Ask  readers to recall passages they found funny, touching, sad, or made them angry and to express why they felt that way.

Here are possibilities to use for 1. above:

Characters:

  • definitions of themselves
  • vulnerabilities or past hurts
  • methods to deal with their fears
  • choices
  • misjudgments of others
  • sacrifices, temptations, release or fulfillment of dreams
  • offer, acceptance, or rejection of forgiveness
  • growing or deteriorating relationships
  • accomplishments (something they can do at the end they couldn’t do at the beginning)
  • differences in two characters’ beliefs or in how they operate

Other:

  • Scriptures mentioned and how they relate to characters, events, or issues
  • Symbols and metaphors
  • Social causes characters support
  • Social issues addressed
  • Setting’s impact
image by Unsplash

image by Unsplash

Examples:

  • Marshal misjudges Darla’s motives for attending Carl and Cynthia’s wedding. When Marshal blasts Darla, she leaves town, devastated. If you were Darla, what would you have done? When have you misjudged someone else and what were the consequences?
  • Candice mistrusts Michael in his relationship with Samantha. And she’s suspicious of Leo trying to take her job. When was a time you struggled with trust issues? How did you work through them?
  • What did Stephen sacrifice for Marla? Why? What was the result? What is something you have sacrificed for someone? How did your sacrifice affect you and the recipient?
  • Which scenes made you laugh? Which made you emotional?

Tips to write discussion questions for novels. Click to tweet.

What type of discussion questions engage you?

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15 Comments

  1. Inspirations By Katheryn

    Question. I am currently going through my seven biblical historical novels in my “Intrepid Men of God” series and adding TO THINK ABOUT questions at the end of each chapter “for book clubs and Bible classes”. They are actually life-application questions. Example, “Recall a time when everything seemed to go wrong for a very important event. How did you handle it?” Are such questions acceptable for book clubs?

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Katheryn, although I didn’t see questions at the end of chapters, it’s an interesting idea. The only possible negative I could think of was that it might interrupt the flow of the story and stop readers from turning the page to the next chapter, but that may be your objective. The question you posed was similar to the questions I found. Thanks for sharing this idea.

  2. Inspirations By Katheryn

    Yes, it does interrupt the flow. I always set up the ending of each chapter to focus on what new thing is going to happen in the next chapter. That part I didn’t like. But I wanted to make it available to a wider audience. I did set it in separate font and tried not to make it jump out at the reader in case they were reading alone. We shall see if it helped or hindered.

  3. Inspirations By Katheryn

    Should I have put all the discussion questions at the end of the books? I just finished writing them for all six books. I will move them to the back. Is that what you were saying?

  4. Cleo Lampos

    This was an interesting article with pertinent information. Thanks.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Cleo, I’m glad you found the post helpful.

  5. Zoe M. McCarthy

    Yes, Katheryn, discussion questions at the end of the novel is what I’ve seen. In nonfiction, I’ve seen questions, review summaries, etc. at the end of chapters.

  6. Marcia

    Good blog. I think an author’s coming up with discussion questions would help him write a better story. Especially if he had his critique partners answer them.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Marcia, excellent idea to have critique partners answer discussion questions in the process.

  7. Inspirations By Katheryn

    I guess it was coincidence, but the day you came out with this blog, I decided to start writing discussion questions for each chapter of my seven 42-65-chapter books. I am writing either a comment and question about a character, or asking if anyone ever went through what happened in the chapter themselves. Hopefully I will be done by tonight. Then Sunday afternoon, I think I am going to go back to all seven books again and have two questions for each chapter. THEN, I want to try to figure out how to form book clubs for my book. (I am not well-known enough to expect book clubs that already exist to adopt one of mine.) Zoe, maybe next time you can talk about forming book clubs.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Hi Katheryn. You might look in the back of several novels and get an average of how many questions to include. I’ve usually seen 10 to 12. I’ll add the “starting a book club” to my idea list. Thanks!

      • Inspirations By Katheryn

        Oh, so my one question per chapter is okay. I don’t think any of the novels I have read had discussion questions. I give a lot away, but have a few; I’ll double check.

        • Zoe M. McCarthy

          Hi Katheryn, For a book club of say 5 people, it might take 5-10 minutes to discuss one question. Thus, it would take 50 – 100 minutes to discuss 10 questions. A club that discusses for an hour before coffee and cookies may have a hard time discussing all 10 questions. I averaged the number of chapters and the number of questions for 6 novels. Average number of chapters = 34, and the average number of questions = 11. This may give you a perspective to work from.

  8. Dr. MaryAnn Diorio

    Thank you so much for this, Zoe. Your post comes at a time when I am preparing discussion questions for my second novel, A SICILIAN FAREWELL. Your guidelines are very helpful.

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      You’re welcome MaryAnn. I’m starting on my questions for book two tomorrow. :0)

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