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How to Find the Central Dramatic Question of Your Story

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 14, 2020 • 2 min read

The central dramatic question is the story engine driving your narrative, a question that should always be at the forefront of your viewers’ or readers’ minds. Each act of your story should try to answer this question, but it shouldn’t be easy—once the dramatic question of your premise is answered, the story is essentially over.



David Mamet Teaches Dramatic WritingDavid Mamet Teaches Dramatic Writing

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What Is the Dramatic Question of a Story?

The dramatic question has to do with the central conflict involving your protagonist. It is usually introduced in the first act of your novel or screenplay, either at the inciting incident of your story or shortly thereafter. Readers want an answer to the dramatic question, and it’s the writer’s job to ensure the solution isn’t simple. The dramatic story question often takes the entire book to answer, and each plot point or turning point that occurs must be in service to answering that same question while holding the audience’s attention.

4 Examples of Dramatic Questions

The focus of a dramatic question can vary depending on the genre you’re writing. For instance, if you’re writing romance, the question centers around whether or not the love interests will end up together. If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, the question is usually about whether the protagonist will be able to save the world and its people. Below are a few famous examples of dramatic questions posed in plays, novels, and film:

  1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (1595): Will Romeo and Juliet overcome their family’s rivalry to live happily ever after?
  2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900): Will Dorothy ever leave the magical land of Oz and make it back home to her small town in Kansas?
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936): Will Scarlett O'Hara win Ashley Wilkes?
  4. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988): Will Clarice Starling be able to stop serial killer Buffalo Bill?
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How to Find the Dramatic Question of Your Story

Every good story has a major dramatic question to answer. To find out what that is, you must figure out what the single driving force behind your narrative is. What is the central character’s objective, and will they succeed at achieving it? The answers to these questions inform the structural spine of your whole narrative, propelling your characters towards their main goals—which are usually external goals, something tangible that can be outwardly obtained by the protagonist and seen by the audience.

Will the main characters end up together? Will the superhero stop the bad guy? The key to finding the dramatic question to your story is knowing your protagonist’s concrete goal and if they’re going to achieve it.

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