Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you right off the bat, “Jack asks more questions than anyone I know.”
Yes, I admit I do ask a lot of questions. I guess I come by it quite naturally. The biggest question-asker in our family was my Aunt Elsie. She simply never ran out of questions to ask. When I was a kid, believe me, she grilled me a lot. She would ask questions about anything. Believe it or not though, I ended up being pretty much like her. In fact, just like her. I never let an unasked question slip by. I guess Aunt Elsie and I were what you might call serial question-askers.
My mother was a question asker too but not in the same league with Aunt Elsie. My mother always would send me to the store instead of my brother because she could pick my brain better than his. When she asked him a question, he’d reply rather fractiously, “I don’t know.” After a dozen times of hearing “I don’t know” she would give up on him.
I was just the opposite. She could ask me how many people were in the store and I’d give her a head count. Just for good measure I’d toss in what they were buying and how they were dressed. Mamma ate that up with a stick, as they used to say back in Mississippi when I was growing up.
So, now it’s my turn to ask all the questions and I do a pretty thorough job of it. When I was young and my question-asking gene fully kicked in thanks to my mother Ruth and My Aunt Elsie, I enjoyed my avocation on any level and at any opportunity. I would go sit with Aunt Sally, a black woman who had actually been a slave up until she was five. I asked her every conceivable question and enjoyed everyone of her answers.
Once my Aunt Nanny Lou, just the opposite of Ruth and Elsie, said to me, ”I don’t know why you are always asking people questions. I can’t imagine what you’re going to do with all the answers.” I looked at her, smiled and replied, “I’ll probably use them one day when I become a writer.”
She was the type who dared not ask anything because she considered it bad form. She would always purse her lips and wait for you to give her answers to her unasked questions—commonly called ‘free-style gossip.” Even so, she was a wonderful influence in that she just let me prattle on and on and never told me, “Shut up, kid; you’re getting on my nerves!”
My father’s first cousin Sally Kelley was a published writer and she knew the value of the question-answer process in a writer’s life. She highly encouraged me even to keep a journal. By the time I was a Junior in high school, I was already writing short stories based on a lot of the information I had gleamed from one and all in my orbit.
Right now when I look back over my screenplays, stage plays and published novels, I smile with thanks to Aunt Elsie for helping me develop into such an inquiring person. I truly gained enough background information for two lifetimes as a writer. I have several current friends who are always saying, “Watch what you say around Jack. It could end up in one of his books.”
What I thought I’d do in this blog is equip you with some questions to ask just in case you aren’t the inquisitive type. These questions can serve to help you remember someone or something to write about or to be used in oral interviews in case you want to try your hand at being a talk-show host. At any rate, practice them out on your friends. They’re great social icebreakers.
Questions to ask one and all:
- What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
- Who was a big influence in your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
- Who is the kindest person you’ve ever personally known? The most evil?
- What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life so far?
- What is your earliest childhood memory?
- What is your favorite memory of me?
- Relate to me an unusual story told in your family. What was your father’s favorite story? Your mother’s? Anybody in your family.
- Who were the three most unusual people in your life? Any funny stories connected with them. Teachers, classmates, fellow workers, neighborhood.
- What are you the proudest of in your life? Don’t tell us it was your kids and spouse. Somebody else please.
- When in life have you felt the most alone?
- What is the single most memorable thing that has ever happened in your life?
- How has your life been different than you imagined it as a kid?
- How would you like to be remembered?
- Why did your parents name you what they did? Do you like your name?
- What would you like written on your tombstone?
- What is your major regret in your life so far?
- What one thing do you realistically hope will happen in your future?
- What was the best trip you ever took? What was the worst?
- What is the best thing that ever happened to you? The worst?
- If you could live your life over to this point, what would you change?
- Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
- Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?
Cheers and enjoy your new self as a local inquisitor. It really could help you in your writing. Have fun asking questions and then think about using them in your writing.