Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Power Of Thoughtful Questions

 "I ask questions for a living..." Larry King responded to an interviewer of perhaps the most famous interviewer of our generation.  

Larry King also shared some of his guiding principles, such as that an interview is about the interviewee, not about the interviewer, therefore he "left ego at the door". He "never brought [his own] opinion to [his] interviews." He believed in asking concise questions, and giving his guests an uninterrupted opportunity to answer.

Writers can learn a lot, craftwise, from public figures who ask questions for a living. 

While Larry King asked questions to edify and entertain and broaden the horizons of his viewers and listeners, asking questions of a different sort is the basis of an attorney's craft. Asking questions is also a critical part of a teacher's Socratic method to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas. The right questions, at the right time, and in the right order can often achieve what no amount of argument will do.

There is an anecdote in "Doesn't Hurt To Ask" by Trey Gowdy in which Gowdy gently roasts Senator Tim Scott for having a vanity license plate US SENATOR 2. Senator Tim Scott responds with a question: "How many times were you stopped last year by the police...?"

Off topic, but maybe vanity license plates that convey a helpfully reassuring message to law enforcement ought to cost no more than regular plates. Maybe somewhere on the back of a vehicle, it should be possible to have the photos of the licensed driver and co-driver of that vehicle.  If the need to ask to see License, Registration, and Proof of Insurance are the most dangerous part of a traffic stop, shouldn't those documents have an RFID chip that the police could read before approaching the driver's window?

One of Gowdy's chapter titles, likely to appeal to writers, is "A word is worth a thousand words".  That might be an oxymoron for the ages. Deep!  Another great insight from Gowdy's years as a prosecutor is that there may only be two witnesses to a murder. One is dead. The other is the defendant.

Another truth is that almost every human likes to talk a lot more than they like to listen. That gives huge life advantages to anyone who likes to listen, or likes to ask incremental questions and is willing to actively listen to the answers.

For authors perhaps wanting a refresher in character development, or the use of dialogue while in the POV of the questioner, Trey Gowdy's "It Doesn't Hurt To Ask" might be a goldmine. As Gowdy says, "Asking the right question is a devilish way to turn the tables."

All the best,

Rowena Cherry


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