Questionstorming Revisited

“Half my job is asking questions of those who can’t generate questions, in order to model the will to curiosity.” — from “Creative Writers in the Academy,” by Orante Churm

Churm got me musing over this great line in his otherwise provocatively subversive essay. As a creative writing instructor, I see my role as very similar to Churm’s, particularly when it comes to raising questions, because this is at the core of creative writing, literary interpretation and, well, all forms of critical inquiry. When I teach using the “permeable lecture” method, I am modelling this will to curiosity.

A short while ago, I was asked to guest blog about “critical reading” for author (and SHU WPF alum) Kaye Dacus’ weblog. In response, I wrote a short article called “Questionstorming” that looks at the sort of questions that writers should ask when they read a story — but mostly, I assert, they should ask the question why:

Every drop of ink that you see on a page is a choice that a writer has made. That choice has a motive. A reason. A rationale. Thus, critical reading is — at its base — a search for that reason. It simply involves ASKING THE QUESTION WHY.

What Churm calls “the will to curiosity” is often not merely a desire to raise this question, but also the courage to find the answers, no matter how much work it might require, how complex those answers might be, how radically life-altering they might be.

Why ask why? Because there’s a thrill in the risk, and a satisfaction in knowing that you’ve moved one step closer — but never all the way — toward the cliff-sharp edge of the truth.

Published by

Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.

2 thoughts on “Questionstorming Revisited”

  1. I always find, when reading, that if the story isn’t connecting—if it doesn’t “work”—for me, it always comes down to the question of “why?” . . . Why would a character do something? Why would he have that reaction? Why would he want this to happen instead of that?
    For me as a writer, answering “why?” is more important than “who? what? or how?” in most cases.

  2. I think your approach of trying to foster intellectual curiosity (which can only be satisfied by looking closely at the text) is a good one.
    I always find it a challenge in the early weeks of an entry-level English course, when I want to break students from the belief that every work of literature has a single “correct” interpretation and that it’s the job of the English instructor to tell them what the “right answer” is, so that they can memorize it and get points by spitting it back. This term, I’ve gotten several early papers that latch onto onto one word or idea in the text and then move quickly into free-association, bringing in personal experiences and lists of what this detail “could mean” — rather than looking at the text and seeing what argument it can support.

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