How to Write Discussion Guides

How to Write Discussion Guides
Anywhere that books are loved and help change lives, readers want to discuss those books. There are hundreds of book clubs in any given area of the world. They specialize in niche genre or are eclectic and they meet either face-to-face over coffee, wine, sushi or breakfast or band together over the internet. What brings them together is the love for great books. What keeps them going is great discussion guides.

More often than not, SciFi or Fantasy books do not come with readily available discussion guides. So write your own!

Go beyond the basic who, what, when, why, were and how questions and facilitate higher order thinking skills by following these suggestions.

Questions about values, attitude and authenticity will help your club members explore the author’s purpose.

Look at the point of view. Does it change throughout the novel? Why? How do the different points of view change the story?

Questions about cause and effect will help your readers relate the novel to their own experiences, successes and failures. Ask how one thing caused another. Ask what the effects of certain dialogue or events are. Extrapolate the factors behind events. Look through the novel and come up with a few what if questions.

Every good story has conflicts. Every great story teaches how to resolve those conflicts. Write questions which explore how the conflicts create changes in the characters, setting and tone of the novel. Have your members compare the conflict and resolution to their own hero’s journey as Joseph Campbell would have called it.

Questions which compare and contrast aspects of the novel are easy to write and very revealing to consider. Have your readers look at the similarities, differences and advantages of the characters (begin with the protagonist and antagonist but don’t forget the colorful support characters), setting and conflicts.

The main idea almost always actually has many different layers. Look for clues to the true main idea by evaluating the title, values, morals and relevant supporting details.

The way an author organizes and moves the plot along can lead to wonderful discussions. Most novels proceed from the premise climbing through the rising action, exploding with the climax, relaxing with the falling action, and finally resolving with the denouement. There are different types of plots which work well within the SciFi/Fantasy genres and each have a different pattern within these phases.

I believe Speculative Fiction readers are especially concerned with the validity and accuracy of information presented in the novels. Discuss the science behind the science fiction. Debate the metaphysical elements woven through the fantasy. Don’t forget that unreliable narrators do exist and that even traditionally published novels can and do have errors.

We fall in love with stories through the language used. Quote passages from the book and ask your members to discuss the meaning or implication of the quote. Don’t forget to tweeze out the possible things to which the quote might allude. Listen to the flow of language. Reading certain passages out loud gives the book new life and can really establish the tone of the book when reading it silently could not. Discuss why the author used particular words. Ask flat out what would have happened if… Discuss the use of reveals (bread crumbs) and flashbacks.

Most book club discussion guides are between one and two dozen questions. Less than twelve and the book seems fluffy. More than twenty-four and you squeeze the life out of the novel.

Once you develop your list of questions, send them to the author. He or she will appreciate it. Share it with other book clubs, too. If you loved the book, chances are, others will to.

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