I wanted to write a blog post on questions book clubs can use when talking about a book. Before setting my questions down I searched on book club questions. 0.54 seconds later I had 298,000,000 results. There is no shortage of hints and suggestions for how to talk about a book with a group of readers.
So rather than duplicate their good work, and there are two links below if you are just getting started, I’m going to give you my list from the perspective of the writer.
Writers spend time, lots of time, thinking about the story, characters and how they are presented in the pages of a book or short story. The questions in the links shared are good, and center around what your impression was of the characters, favorite lines or scenes, thoughts on the setting, ending, casting of the part if this were to be made into a movie.
As a writer, I’m interested to know if you felt like cheering on the main character. And if so why. Did you relate to them because they shared experiences you’ve had, or because they were so different you were drawn to them to see how others thought.
Whether the main character, or protagonist, is a superhero or an everyday person riddled with flaws that make them somewhat unlikable, the author hopes to create a situation where you are cheering for them to succeed. Whether they are fighting the bad buy or seeking redemption, we want you to root for them. That’s what keeps you turning the pages.
I’d also like to know if you sensed the main character’s quest in the beginning of the book. Not all quests are Hobbiton in scale, but all characters are dealing with something. Novels, even genre stories, start with a glimpse of the world as it is. Readers need to know where the characters start to understand the change at the end. Then something happens to tip the apple cart. The rest of the story is how the characters adapt. Of course, this never goes easily.
Next, I’d like to know whether the readers felt that the supporting characters were just that – supporting. Or did they take over and solve the main characters problem for them? A good supporting cast gives the main character a way to interact with the world in a way we can learn what’s going on, without it feeling like data dumps. They also give the main character a sounding board so as readers we can ride along as they change to adapt to the situation. Even the villain can qualify as a supporting character.
Given the most book clubs have more than a few people, and everyone should be allowed time to express their thoughts, I’ll add one more question.
Authors are obsessed with pace. We want you turning the page, but not racing through missing all the wonderful plot points we’ve carefully intertwined into the story. I’d want to ask whether the pace worked for the reader. Did you feel rushed? Were there areas where you wished the author had slowed down and explained more? Or, did they linger too long on something that you said, “forget it,” and skipped? This is the Goldilocks question. Was the pacing too slow, too fast, or, just right?
So here are my five questions to add to whatever others you’ve gathered:
- Did you feel empathy for the main character? Why? Or Why not?
- Did you know what the quest was as the story rolled along or were you confused as to what this book was about? What could the author have done to clarify for you?
- Who were the supporting characters and were they on the main character’s side or
- were they the antagonists? What information did the supporting characters provide the assisted the main character in solving the problem?
- Was the pacing too slow, too fast, or, just right? What parts do you wish had been different and why?
These 5 questions will start you looking at a book as an author does. This list doesn’t summarize all that goes into writing a book, but then you aren’t writing a book. Coupled with the questions available at the resources available on-line, you should be up for a great discussion at your next book club!
NOTE: Updated 3/30/18 to add missing links. Sorry about that!