It is my privilege to find myself frequently asked to review writings from a gifted number of peers and colleagues. Thus far it seems that my constructive criticisms are appreciated. One common problem that I see in my work as well as others is a fundamental that I think writers sometimes overlook: the dramatic question.
In essence, the dramatic question should cut to the guts of any work. Sure the work may be an allegory for Imperialism and play with meta techniques, but there still needs to be one core question that keeps the reader engaged. Although I am not normally a fan of closed questions, I find them particularly useful in articulating the dramatic question. Some examples from popular works:
Will Darcy and Elizabeth get together?
Will Katniss survive the games?
Will Clarice find Buffalo Bill in time?
Will they kill the shark? (Or the fecking shark if you are a fan of The Cripple of Inishman)
At the core of every story should be a simple question that can be answered with yes, no, or maybe. How clear that answer is (Yes, but at what price–consider that a spoiler dodge for one of the above), is up to the writer. And while a story can most certainly be ripe with layers and subplots, that question should exist in a way that is neither overt nor too buried. Essentially, we may marvel at technique, but we stay to see what happens next.
Think about a project you are playing with or currently working on. What is that dramatic question? What is the answer to that question?