Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ASKING QUESTIONS THROUGH INNER DIALOGUE: Alchemy and Meggy Swann (Post #3 of 6)

Dear Heather and Meg,

In Meg’s most recent post about Alchemy and Meggy Swann she points to one of Meggy’s problems being her loneliness—she is alone in part or all of many scenes. As a result, much of the dialogue that takes place is inner dialogue—Meggy pondering, noticing, fretting. In looking at how Karen Cushman uses this inner dialogue I became particularly interested in the way that Meggy is continually asking herself questions.

As the story gets underway, on page 2, Meggy has just arrived at what is to be her new home.

“Darkness comes late in high summer, but come it does. Meggy could see little of the room she sat in. Was there food here? A cooking pot? Wood for a fire? Would the peevish looking man—Master Peevish, she decided to call him—would he come down and give her a better welcome?”
Over the following pages Meggy asks herself questions all the time:

• What sort of place was this London? (p. 6)
• Was Master Peevish coming down? Was he sorry he had given her so poor a welcome? (p. 7)
• What was she to do to quiet her grumbling belly? (p. 13)
•Would Master Peevish come downstairs? Did he even recall she was there? Would the boy in the brown doublet come back? (p. 13)
This continues throughout the book, and I think the thing that drew my attention to it is the fact that these questions often appear in clusters. This question-asking accomplishes several things. First, it gives me, the reader, a direct line to, and constant reminder of, Meggy’s problems. Second, it creates suspense. Each of these questions demands an answer. Sometimes the answer comes right away. Sometimes Meggy wonders the same thing over a series of pages and scenes leaving both herself and the reader wondering whether or not her question will be answered and her problems solved.

Further, questions asked by the protagonist allow both the reader and the protagonist to assess progress the character is making toward accomplishing her goals. Toward the end of the book, on page 155 as the story has nearly come to its conclusion Meggy wonders, “Was she so changed? Just when had that happened, and how?” These questions allow both Meggy and the reader to stop for a moment and ponder the answers, revisiting the path that led to the main character accomplishing her goals.

StorySleuths’ Tip # 87: Allowing the protagonist to ask questions can emphasize problems, create suspense and track the character’s progress toward realizing their goals.