1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Rhetorical questions, yes or no?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GingerCoffee, May 16, 2013.

    OK, so in my protag's inner dialogue are the occasional rhetorical questions.

    "Why is that?" she thought.

    That sort of thing.

    My critiquer that I get so much good advice from has a personal thing about inner dialogue questions. So I'm wondering how universal the feeling is. Does it bother you when a character asks a question as part of a thought process, not really expecting an answer?
     
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why doesn't your critiquer like them?
    I've never even thought about this. If a certain thing fits a character's thought process, why not? I think it can only become bothersome if the character asks a rhetorical question multiple times on the same page or something (but you implied it's just occasional), like it becomes blatantly repetitive. But that probably goes with everything.

    So I'd say, no, it doesn't bother me.
     
  3. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Rhetorical question is very much a tool for the writers which can kick start a conflict, create a sense of mystery even. But overuse and redundant use I'll discourage specially if other parts of dialogues and narration already implied the character is having doubts/assessing a situation etc.

    Style wise, if the POV character is clearly indicated you don't even need the rhetorical question to be a part of the dialogue. It can be part of the narration without the quotation marks.
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I find rhetorical questions like that tend to occur in books geared towards a younger audience, say, YA or younger. I don't see it often in adult novels. If used all the time, it becomes boring and repetitive and doesn't convey all that much. It's one of the instances of "telling" rather than "showing" - now anyone vaguely experienced in writing will know you need to do both, of course, both showing and telling, so it's not to say rhetorical questions are bad, but it is to say that they should be used with caution, in my opinion. And definitely don't ask more than one rhetorical question in the same paragraph, as sometimes people do!

    One reason why some may not like rhetorical questions is because they seem patronising, esp when used badly. They ask questions the reader is already asking, assuming you wrote the story well, and therefore the questions become redundant and already repetitive because the reader has already asked them and already knows the character is asking them.

    A rhetorical question would be used to highlight a particular struggle, but it is not to be used in favour of actually writing well and showing the characters' emotions and actions. It is also not to be used as an info-dump tool, which it can - instead of exploring your character's emotions with skilful narrative and description, you resort to a tumble of rhetorical questions. In those instances, that would certainly be bad writing.

    As with everything else in writing, there're no real do's and don'ts - only whether you can use something well.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    here's one valid 'don't':

    thoughts don't go in " "... only spoken aloud dialog does...
     
  6. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    Bingo. I use rhetorical questions sparingly for exactly this reason.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    My character talks to herself out loud. I should have said something other than "thought" to make that more clear in the OP.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thanks for your replies. So it sounds like it's just an individual pet peeve rather than a widespread one.
     
  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can you post a sentence from your work that includes the issue? I'm thinking it might sound a little juvenile but I'd have to see it, first.
     
  10. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Yes I would like to see it also.

    And, if your character talks out loud to her self then adding the dialogue tag of "She thought" is incorrect.
     
  11. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think if your character is going to be musing aloud, it should be indicative of something about your character as an individual, since normally I pin that sort of thing to archetypal detectives or rambling scientists.

    Also, I'd say asking rhetorical questions is not so much telling as it spoon feeding the reader.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    From my novel:
    I sometimes ask myself questions when I talk to myself. There are more inner thought questions in these two paragraphs than elsewhere, but I will look to see if I've overused them.


    I know that. Have you and Mammamaia forgotten the whole Italics for Thought thread? ;)


    There is a reason she talks to herself out loud. She spends weeks alone in the forest. She has few friends in her village and has made up for it by being her own friend. I wouldn't call her a "rambling scientist" but she is an explorer and a scientist by nature and that is clear from the first chapter on.
     
  13. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a basic animosity toward any "either/or", "yes/no" platitudes in writing. You use what works in that sentence, that paragraph, that chapter.
     
  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, that's a good reason.

    More importantly,when I read your passage, the rhetorical questions did not bother me at all.
     
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  15. Michael O
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    Michael O Contributing Member

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    I think rhetorical question should answer themselves.....The reader knows the answer.

    For example, two teenagers want to buy a car in a junk-yard and need a parent's help to tow it...."Want to help me get my dad to tow home?"

    "Does a wild bear crap in the woods?" It's a done-deal. This beats the crap outa yeah, okay, sure, why not?.....Oops....A weak-ass rhetorical question.
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thank you. :)
     
  17. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rhetorical questions, yes or no?
    Does it really matter?





    ;)
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Does it serve a purpose for your story?
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The conversation with herself does. The things she talks about do. And yes, questions like, “How does it do that? How does it make sounds like whole chords?” I would have to find that species, tells the reader she is pondering the mysterious sound and has a desire to investigate.

    But if rhetorical questions like that annoyed a lot of readers I wanted to know. There is more than one way to write the same thing.
     
  20. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    A rhetorical question is a question which itself makes a point and for which you don't expect an answer or look for one. If she wants to investigate or is genuinely intrigued and tries to think of the answer then it is not a rhetorical question and obviously contributes to the story so you should leave it in.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't have a problem with the rhetorical questions, but I have a problem with thoughts as thoughts, then thoughts in voice, then thoughts as thoughts again. It's too much bouncing around for my taste. I like the thoughts in voice, but I would put all of them that way. For example:

    I sat up. “Well Brin, you came out here to get a better look at the city, didn’t you? If you can't contemplate the universe, OK, tweak your plans for tomorrow.” With the bit of light still leaking through the clouds, I left the now warmed bedroll and wandered a short distance from my campsite. I found the best break in the trees with a view west. Judging direction by the ring glow across the cloud cover, the brightest overcast grey lit from below was southwest of me, the source still not visible beyond the foothills. "The south plateau tomorrow, I think."

    I sat down on a rock, listening to the nocturnal noisemakers. The song from a beautiful musical bird I’d never heard before drifted through the night. I looked up, smiling. "A serenade, just for me. How does it do that? How does it make sounds like whole chords? I'll have to find that species when I'm done out here.”


    That doesn't really change too much, but for me it makes it flow better.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You're right. Rhetorical is the wrong adjective for the questions I'm referring to. Not worth starting a new thread since I did get the question answered that I was ineptly asking. Thanks for pointing it out though.
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I haven't made the changes yet, but the critique group had similar feedback, so thanks for your comments.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    preceding her musing aloud with 'i sat up' and following it as you did doesn't make it clear to me that she was talking to herself... neither does the intro to the second example... i'd suggest something more along the lines of:


     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The paragraphs are out of context, Mammamaia. It's clear she's talking to herself because it's clear she's out in the forest alone. But thanks for your comments.
     

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