Let's examine To Kill a Mocking Bird, a classic novel most of us have read. The central dramatic question is "Will Atticus Finch save Tom Robinson, a moral, innocent black man, from a charge of raping a white woman?" The other major question has to do with the children's fear of Boo Radley, a neighbor who has trapped himself into his spooky family home. Is he good or evil? Should Scout and Jem be afraid of him or is he simply a poor soul who has been misunderstood and tormented?
Here are some other questions that are introduced as the book progresses: Will a mob of racist townspeople lynch Tom Robinson before the jury reaches a verdict? If he survives the mob, will Tom be sentenced to prison or will he die? Will the racists and others in the community attack Atticus or his children? Who is putting small gifts into the knothole of a tree on the Radley property? Did Boo Radley set fire to a neighbor's house? Did Boo kill Bob Ewell, the revengeful father of the rape victim, Mayella? Will murder charges be brought against Boo?
Each of these questions produce tension and suspense. Readers want to know the answers, and the author, Harper Lee, cleverly makes them unpredictable. We hope Tom Robinson will be exonerated and the story will end happily, but his death is necessary to give the story meaning. Lee's purpose is to explore the spectrum of human nature and to show Jem and Scout's transition from childhood innocence to an adult's acceptance of evil in the world without losing faith in the human capacity for goodness.
Look at your own novel. Do you have story questions throughout it? Do they reinforce your theme and premise? Do the answers serve a higher purpose? To Kill a Mockingbird may seem like a simple story of intolerance, but the author's skill in confronting life's most important questions should inspire all of us.