Ontological Questions: Questions Every Writer Should Answer

Rembrandt's Philosopher in Meditation (detail).
Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation (detail). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am currently attending an AP conference, and yesterday a list of questions were posed that gave me chills.  The instructor told us that all great literature asks a set of ontological questions or questions that get to the heart of what is important in life.  The reason I had such a reaction is that I can see that my latest novel discusses every one of them.  I’m not saying that my book is anywhere near the classical literature of old, but it is nice to see that I am on the right track.

As a writer, I often think about what my writing means to the world.  Does it really mean anything or is it simply the ravings of a madman?  Most of the best-selling novels today are not really reaching down into the deep ontological questions that make great literature, but what if they could?  What if writers could write engaging and entertaining stories that asked and answered the deeper questions.

How does your writing compare?

Here are the questions:

1.  What is the meaning of life?
2.  How should I live?
3.  How can I accept the idea that someday my life will end?
4.  What does it mean to be a good person?
5.  What is truth?
6.  Am I brave or a coward?  Does courage matter?
7.  Do the rewards of life balance or outweigh its pain?
8.  How should people treat each other?
9.  How can man live in the ugliness of the modern world without despair?
10.  Why do evil and suffering exist?
11.  How can we tell the false from the genuine?
12.  Does my existence matter?  Do I dare to disturb the universe?
If your text answers any of these questions then you are on the track to writing meaningful stories.  If not, maybe you should consider incorporating some of these into your text.  It will only make your text that much more rich and may cause the work to linger in the mind of the reader much longer than last night’s television episode.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

6 thoughts on “Ontological Questions: Questions Every Writer Should Answer

  1. Wonderful list! Inspiring!

    What happens if you answer all of them? Doesn’t the story sound ‘preachy’? And how does one define if an author posed the question successfully? What if the writing answers the question to me, but not anyone else? And if a tree falls in the forest….? =D

    Great post! My brain is all abuzz. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it. I have a few of these elements already in my writing project, but this has inspired me to try and incorporate some others.

  3. I really liked this. Thank you. Nice to have a “check list” to go by. I saved it in my writing file on my computer so that I can use it to do exactly what you suggested. I’d love to “re-blog” this but don’t know how!!!

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