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'09 Authors Insider Tips

Everything About Epublishing
by Angela James
Digital Publishing & Print
Common Myths of Epublishing
Ebook Formats and Devices

by Louisa Burton
Compelling Characters
Point of View, Part I
Point of View, Part II
Learning to Love Conflict
Story Structure
Keep ‘em Guessing
Keep it Simple
Keep Your Writing Real
The Importance of Pacing

Literary Streetwalker
by M. Christian
New World of Publishing
To Blog Or Not To Blog
Meeting & Making Friends
Thinking Beyond Sex
Selling Books
Walking the Line
e-book, e-publisher, e-fun
Still More E-book Fun

Shameless Self-Promotion
by Donna George Storey
Our Journey Begins
Pitches and Bios
Websites, Blogs & Readers
Publicists, Press Kits and...
Viva the Internet
Adventures in Cyberspace
Promoting In the Flesh
Make Your Own Movie
Bigger is Better
Looking Back, Planning Ahead

Two Girls Kissing
by Amie M. Evans
Questions to Ask Yourself...
Tough All Over

The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
Practice Makes Prefect
5 Books for Fiction Authors
Poetry In Motions
Six Serving Men
Ashley Lister is Anal
Stealing Ideas
Celebrating Poetry

2009 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister

Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
A Year of Living Shamelessly
Adultery, Exhibitionism ...
John Updike Made Me Do It ...
Story Soup: Forbidden ...
Lessons from Amazon
Naked Lunches ...
Erotic Alchemy
Secrets of Seduction
Are You a “Real” Writer?
Don’t Fondle My Sentence

Cracking Foxy
with Robert Buckley
The Passionate Taphophile
Havens on Earth
A Knight Without Armor
Magic Carpet Rides
Getting Hammered
Keep It Quiet
Hang Around for a Spell

Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
Worked Up About Why
Worked Up About Why, Part II
All Worked Up About Porn
The Catholic Church
Purity Movement
The National Crisis
The Future
About Homosexuality
Public Indiscretions

Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin
Premature Ejaculation
Auctioning Off What?

Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Who's Who Around the Table
Ritual Sex
Mixed Legacy
The Spectrum of Consent
Drawing the Line
Marriage without the Hype
The Distracting Smirk
Innocent Guns
Gardens of Earthly Delights

Provocative Interviews

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
Anneke Jacob
D L King
Kristina Lloyd
Lisabet Sarai
Mitzi Szereto
Portia Da Costa
Shanna Germain
Sommer Marsden
Susan DiPlacido

Guest Appearances

Marketing a Self-Published Novel
by Jeanne Ainslie


by Louisa Burton

Keep ‘em Guessing:
The Importance of Story Questions


During a writing workshop I took many years ago, the instructor launched into an earnest lecture on suspense and the vital role it plays in fiction. Like my fellow students, I was surprised by her intensity on the subject. If she’d been a mystery author, I would have understood, but in fact she wrote thoughtful novels about women finding themselves; one of her books aired as a Lifetime movie while I was studying with her.

Bemused by our bemusement, she explained that suspense is vital to every genre of fiction, not just whodunits and thrillers. Story questions—what happened, what’s happening, what’s going to happen—are what maintain your reader’s interest in the events you’re playing out, what keeps him or her turning the pages.

No matter what kind of fiction you write, never lose sight of the entertainment imperative. Our work competes for our audience’s attention with other books, movies, television, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, computer games, obsessive-compulsive texting... It’s a noisy world out there. The kiss of death for a novelist is to forget that our job is to grab hold of and maintain our reader’s attention through hundreds of pages of stuff we made up. If that reader starts to get bored, he’s not going to stick it out unless he’s a masochist. He’s going to abandon your story and move on to someone else’s.

Readers—people who occasionally choose to put down the remote and pick up a book—tend to be smarter than the average bear. They don’t want to be spoon-fed their entertainment, at least not always. They gravitate toward pastimes that require a certain amount of intellectual interaction. When you’re reading a good story, your mind is always working—speculating, deducing, rooting around mentally for answers to the questions that keep popping up. A work of fiction that doesn’t provide fodder for these cerebral calisthenics—in other word, that lacks story questions—is bound to bore the reader because it simply isn’t doing the job that fiction is meant to do.

All well-written stories generate story questions as they play themselves out, so that the reader always has something to ponder, wait for, anticipate. If the outcome will affect a protagonist with whom your reader empathizes deeply, her investment in it is all the greater, and she won’t want to put the book down until that story question is answered.

In most novels, there’s one big story question (or a couple of big ones that are usually connected). Let’s call this the major story question. In the best novels, there are also a number of smaller, ongoing, minor story questions. All story questions relate to plot—to the events of the story—but ideally, story and character are inextricably linked. In character-driven fiction, after all, your characters are making decisions that keep the story moving.

The major story question, which ties into the central conflict, is generally resolved at or near the end of the book. With classic mystery novels, the story question is almost always Who Done It? Some other examples:

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: Will Scarlett win Ashley’s love? Will she rebound after the devastation of the Civil War?

Elizabeth Berg’s Range of Motion: Will Jay wake up from his coma?

John Grisham’s The Firm: How will Mitch McDeere manage to extricate himself from the clutches of his mafia-affiliated law firm? Will his marriage survive?

William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner: Why does sympathetic Nat Turner end up spearheading a brutal rebellion?

Another Syron novel, Sophie’s Choice: What was Sophie’s choice and why did it have such repercussions?

John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Will Sarah and Charles manage to defy all the many societal constraints of Victorian England, not to mention his engagement to Ernestina, and end up together?

David Balducci’s Absolute Power: Will President Alan Richmond’s involvement in a young woman’s brutal murder become known?

Steven King’s The Shining: Will the family end up victims of the dark forces inhabiting the hotel in which they’re snowbound for the winter?

The often numerous minor story questions are extremely important, because they help to keep your reader engaged until the resolution of the major story question. From page one, you should be peppering questions into your story and then answering them, in a leapfrogging manner that fits the natural evolution of your plot. Make your reader wonder what happened, what’s happening, what’s going to happen—and why?

Don’t frustrate your reader by withholding answers too long. That has a coy, artificial feel. But as questions are answered, be aware that new ones should naturally crop up.

An example from the opening of my book In the Garden of Sin:

I am in my autumn years now, sitting quill in hand before a high, arched window in the library of my marble palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal, preparing to record the events that had driven me, as a virginal young Englishwoman of gentle birth, to seek an education in whoredom....[Story question: Why would a virginal young gentlewoman want to become a whore?]

The curtain opened on my tale on the eighteenth day of July in the year of our Lord 1626, when I still lived in London, where I had been born and reared. Through covert inquiries, I had ascertained that there was a visitor to that city, a Venetian nobleman and poet named Domenico Vitturi, who acted as a Pygmalion of sorts to young women from every corner of Europe who sought to improve their circumstances through the exalted form of prostitution for which Venice had long been notorious....

Desperate for a solution to an agonizing dilemma, the nature of which I was loath to admit openly for reasons that will become clear [What kind of dilemma would prompt her to take such extreme measures?], I resolved to contrive an audience with Signor Vitturi in the hope that he would deem me worthy to partake in this venture. And so it was that I found myself, that damp and unseasonably chilly morning, being ushered by a liveried footman into the high-ceilinged, darkly paneled great chamber of York House on the Strand, where Vitturi was a guest of the Duke of Buckingham.

The Venetian rose from his writing desk as I was presented, bowing with his hand upon his breast, but not before I caught sight of his face—the face I had been warned to expect, lest my countenance betray any hint of distaste. His forehead, cheek, and jaw on the right side were badly scarred, the flesh there gouged and puckered, but well-healed. These ghastly wounds appeared to extend to his chin and neck, but were mostly concealed in those regions by a narrow, trim beard of the type that was in fashion at that time, as well as by the ruff at his throat. [What happened to him?]

And so on...

It’s a writing truism that if you pose a question, you must answer it at some point. Yes... and no. Remember, there are no rules for writing fiction. By and large, it’s more satisfying to have all the threads tied up at the end, but if it works to leave your reader hanging on a particular question, write it that way. I recently read a brilliant suspense novel by a relatively new author (I don’t want to name the book for fear of revealing too much) which featured a present-day murder mystery that was tied into a mysterious crime that had occurred two decades before. Intriguing questions are raised about that crime, which I had assumed would be answered at the end of the book. They weren’t, but it felt absolutely right for the story, and I was happy with the ending.

Story questions can add zing to your opening hooks and curtain lines. To craft a true page-turner, try to end most of your chapters with an intriguing bit of business that goads your reader into starting the next chapter even though it’s 1:00 am and he’s got to go to work the next morning.

If the endings of your chapters are ho-hum, it’s not a bad idea to re-chapter the manuscript so as to make them more intriguing. Chapters breaks can interrupt scenes in the middle, and they don’t have to be any particular length. They can contain one scene or, as in Chapter 3 of David Balducci’s Absolute Power—the quintessential page-turner—seventeen. (As I recall, there are some very short scenes in that book as well.) Your goal isn’t to be consistent, it’s to be entertaining, and great story questions will go far toward achieving that goal.

That’s all for now. Catch you next month, same time, same place...

Louisa Burton
August 2009

If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to Louisa Burton

Read more of Louisa Burton's FictionCraft in ERWA 2009 Archive.

"FictionCraft" © 2009 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martin’s. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at

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'09 Movie Reviews

Blame It On Savanna
Review by Byrdman

Cry Wolf
Review by Spooky

Review by Spooky

Heaven or Hell
Review by Oranje

House of Wicked
Review by Diesel

The Office: An XXX Parody
Review by Spooky

This Ain't The Partridge Family
Review by Spooky

'09 Book Reviews


A Slip of the Lip (ebook)
Review by Jean Roberta

Best Women's Erotica '09
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Bottoms Up
Review by Ashley Lister

Enchanted Again
Review by Victoria Blisse

Review by Kathleen Bradean

Girls on Top
Review by Ashley Lister

In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed
Review by Ashley Lister

Libidacoria (Poetry)
Review by Ashley Lister

Licks & Promises
Review by Ashley Lister

Like a Thorn (ebook)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Mile High Club
Review by Ashley Lister

Nexus Confessions: Vol 5
Review by Victoria Blisse

Nexus Confessions 6
Review by Victoria Blisse

Oysters & Chocolate
Review by Kristina Wright

Playing with Fire
Review by Ashley Lister

Sexy Little Numbers Vol 1
Review by Ashley Lister

Up for Grabs
Review by Lisabet Sarai


A 21st Century Courtesan
Review by Donna G. Storey

The Ages of Lulu
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Amanda’s Young Men
Review by Kristina Wright

As She's Told
Review by Ashley Lister

Bedding Down
Review by Victoria Blisse

Review by Ashley Lister

Brushes & Painted Dolls
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Cassandras Chateau
Review by Ashley Lister

The Edge of Impropriety
Review by Kristina Wright

Review by Kathleen Bradean

Free Pass
Review by Ashley Lister

The Gift of Shame
Review by Victoria Blisse

Kiss It Better
Review by Ashley Lister

The Melinoe Project
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Mortal Engines & The ...
Review by Ashley Lister

The New Rakes
Review by Ashley Lister

Ninety Days of Genevieve
Review by Victoria Blisse

Obsession: An Erotic Tale
Review by Kristina Wright

Sarah's Education
Review by Ashley Lister

Seduce Me
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Lesbian Erotica

Lesbian Cowboys
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Night's Kiss
Review by Jean Roberta

Where the Girls Are
Review by Jean Roberta

Gay Erotica

Animal Attraction 2
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Boys in Heat
Review by Vincent Diamond

Review by Lisabet Sarai

The Low Road
Review by Jean Roberta

Personal Demons
Review by Jean Roberta

Ready to Serve
Review by Vincent Diamond

The Secret Tunnel
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Review by Kathleen Bradean

Review by Vincent Diamond


Best Sex Writing '09
Review by Kristina Wright

The Big Penis Book
Review by Rob Hardy

Erotic Encounters
Review by Rob Hardy

The Forbidden Apple
Review by Rob Hardy

Hollywood’s Censor
Review by Rob Hardy

Lady in Red
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Licentious Gotham: Erotic...
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Live Nude Elf
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Live Nude Girl
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The Other Side of Desire
Review by Rob Hardy

Scripts 4 Play
Review by Ashley Lister