• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Asking the reader rhetorical questions?

Svrtnsse

Staff
Article Team
I'm currently writing a scene where it begins to dawn on my main character that she might be lost. She begins to question herself about the way she's come, and she starts to have doubts about where to go. As I'm writing this actual questions start to appear in the prose. Sentences like this:

She'd gone pretty much straight ahead most of the time, hadn't she?

Or:

It couldn't hurt to keep going, right?

Pretty simple, straight-forward questions. My trouble is that it feels wrong to pose these rhetorical questions directly to the reader. I'm pretty sure it isn't in fact wrong to write questions like that, so I'm thinking it's some kind of subconscious stylistic choice. Voice, or something.

What's your take on this? How do you feel about it?
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I do it a lot, but honestly, it depends on how deep you can get the character's voice. If you can't hit the right "depth" it runs the risk of looking jarring and gimmicky.

Here's an excerpt from my Ladybug fanfiction where I use it a lot.

Ladybug Fanfiction said:
"I know you like her, Adrien, so don't make me regret this." Marinette gently tapped the top of the box, and she gave him a wink when he noticed the writing scribbled across the printed photo.

Cher Adrien, stay dreamy. Ladybug <3

Adrien looked at the writing for a long moment. When he looked from the photo up at Marinette, her cheeks had dropped into her hands, and she had been watching him with glazed eyes, blushed cheeks, and a gaping smile.

Adrien had been afraid that his head would be flittering and unfocused, jumping between Marinette and a sadness surrounding his rejection by Ladybug. But even with these words in front of him, the look in Marinette’s bluebell eyes – his attention belonged solely to her. The smile on her lips. Was she having fun? The blush in her cheeks. How long could he keep this up?

He closed the box and thanked her for the gift. When would her disappointment begin? That was the wrong question. He realized that now.

Was he prepared to fall in love with her?

You can decide how well the questions work for you. But I was willing to do it because I felt that I was successfully "in his head" before the questions began, and that the questions weren't directed at the reader but were questions he was struggling with and asking himself.
 

Svrtnsse

Staff
Article Team
I was willing to do it because I felt that I was successfully "in his head" before the questions began, and that the questions weren't directed at the reader but were questions he was struggling with and asking himself.
I hear you, and I see what you mean.

I'm pretty sure I've used questions in a similar way in the past, but can't think of an example right now. I'd say it's one of those things you end up handling on a case by case basis, where there's no real rule and you just have to go with what feels right.
 

Mythopoet

Auror
I think it's fine as long as you maintain that tone through the whole book. Books that are written mostly in limited 3rd and then suddenly have a sentence here and there where direct-to-reader narration shows up are very disconcerting.
 

pmmg

Istar
Seems to me, this is just letting the reader in to the characters confusion. I would read this as a window into the characters thoughts. I would think this would aid in immersion, so I have no issue with it.
 
As long as the narrative is a deep, intimate third, and the character is the sort to question herself—and/or carry, inside her mind, a past companion or mentor or whatever she sometimes "speaks to"—then this wouldn't be a problem.

In these cases, it wouldn't feel like she's addressing the reader. She's addressing herself. Sometimes, maybe she'd be addressing that long-lost companion.
 

DylanRS

Dreamer
I'm a fan of switching from third limited to a character's thoughts without even slanting the words. For your first example I'd switch from author to character and make her the speaker for a brief moment. Wait. I've only gone straight, right? -- Just written like she'd actually thought it. Italics are cool too though.

I wouldn't like it to be addressed to the reader. The "right?" passes as a self question.

Devor has also done something I like. It's like a blend of the third and first. "Was she making fun?" is a smooth transition there to thinking. Actually, it's got a lot to do with the rest of the writing. As long as it isn't sudden and inconsistent. To some degree, third person is like speaking directly to the reader anyways. Or it's like having an implied speaker that doesn't exist. I can probably psyche myself out just thinking too hard about it. It seems to come down to a consistent voice.
 
Top