What is the most important question writers ask?

  • How many books have I sold this month?
  • Do I get an advance? 
  • Why is Amazon’s algorithm so complicated?
  • Can I eat this cream cake as research?
  • Is it ok to write someone I know into my book – and kill them?
  • You mean I have to re-write the whole thing?
  • Why is this so hard?
  • Where’s the wine?

It could be any or all of the above. But for me, the most important question a writer can ask is……

Asking questions is one of three key creative tools which can Kickstart and Unlock any stuck creative. 

Last week, we discussed where we get ideas from: 

  • From inside ourselves: The things we know about
  • From inside ourselves: the unconscious
  • From the world around us

So today we are going to look at what we do with them. 

  • How do we develop an idea into a story? 
  • How do we separate the wheat ideas from the chaff?
  • How do we know if a story will have enough mileage to sustain a whole novel length story?

This is where my creative tools come in.

By using our imagination, asking questions and making connections between seemingly unrelated things, we not only generate a constant flow of ideas, but we can develop them into stories.

From Kickstart Your Writing by Anita Belli

For example:

What if …. a young woman discovers dangerous secrets hidden in her cellar?

This is the question I asked myself when I wrote my first novel:

The Art Forger’s Daughter


So, I travelled behind the scenes of the question, and began to explore my other interests. Things I wanted to write about. As a writer, you must be intrigued by your own ideas in order to sustain them. To write a novel, an idea needs the potential to grow in many directions and blossom from a small seed into a thriving, and robust world of its own.

I have been fascinated by art and history since I was at school. I read about art forgery in WWII, and this led me to think about the broader issues around that subject:
Truth and Lies; and also about the secrets which ripple through the generations and impact on those who come later. 

The more I thought about this idea and explored the possibilities, the bigger the idea grew. I began to think that I could write several books exploring different angles of this subject and there are, after all, many ways to tell any story; and many stories to tell. But, the explosion of ideas is the first phase; teasing out the story threads come later.

I refined the question and asked some more questions:

  • What if …. a young woman discovers dangerous secrets from World War Two hidden in her cellar?
  • And what if they are paintings, forged in WW11?
  • What if … her father was an art forger?
  • What if … The paintings contain clues?
  • How will she uncover the truth?
  • How did the paintings get to her Grandpa’s house in Colchester?
  • How was her father killed?
  • What about her mother’s role?
  • What was her father hiding?
  • Where will this story take place?

There are always more questions than answers.


The Letter Writer oil painting by David Skynner was the inspiration behind
The Art Forger’s Daughter

This process adds layers and depth to the work and takes the writer into unexpected territory. Gradually a story emerges and is refined. You then apply story telling techniques and draw the threads, weaving them together to create a story (which suits your genre.)

My initial idea became not just a story of art forgery in WWII, but explores additional issues;

I wanted to explore mental illness – Beatrix’s mother, having been traumatized by the war in Holland, sufferers a breakdown, but she is determined to keep the paintings hidden. Beatrix however, can only help her mother to recover by finding the truth.

I also enjoyed the time shift. Social attitudes in the 1950’s were very different to the 21stcentury and not only because people smoked indoors, and women wore hats! 

But at the centre of the story is the struggle for personal survival in the heart of war.


This is a theme I picked up on in my second book,
The Traveller and the Rose – an epic story of love, war and the search for the truth, set in the Spanish Civil War.

But that is, quite literally, another story!

So, for me, a story emerges from a simple question. The seed of an idea is watered by more questions, nurtured by making connections with interests, themes and issues, and blossoms into a story by imagining a whole world populated by three dimensional characters. 

Three simple creative tools to develop an idea;


See UNLOCK THE BLOCK for more information about 3 Simple Creative Tools:

See Kickstart Your Writing for more information about developing story and plot using creative tools

Published by Anita Belli

Compulsive writer addicted to fiction

3 thoughts on “What is the most important question writers ask?

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