How might starbursting help you generate ideas for your fiction? One of the most effective ways of developing tension in a story is to continually raise questions. Starbursting can help you figure out the kinds of questions to raise for readers, as well as sort out which are the most compelling. From there, you can begin to shape your material around raising those questions and artfully and parsimoniously providing answers.
Here are some examples of questions you might generate:
Who questions• Who has the most to lose in this situation?
• Who might be secret allies?
• Who would have the most trouble keeping this secret?
• Who should the protagonist trust?
• Who should the protagonist suspect?
• Who would be the best eyewitness?
• Who might sabotage the protagonist?
What questions• What does my protagonist most want in this scene?
• What outcome does s/he most fear?
• What usual coping mechanisms will s/he draw upon?
• What emotions will s/he hide?
• What skills does s/he need to achieve his/her goal?
• What tools does s/he need?
• What connections will s/he need to make to achieve his/her goal?
• What traits could bring him/her into conflict in this scene?
• What traits, good or bad, could hinder the protagonist in his/her quest?
Where questions• Where could I set this scene to maximize the tension?
• Where would readers least expect this kind of scene to take place?
• Where does the protagonist feel most comfortable and confident?
• Where does the protagonist feel most uneasy or incompetent?
• Where might my protagonist hide something valuable?
• Where would s/he most naturally seek for the lost thing or person?
• Where would s/he go for advice?
• Where would s/he most stick out as an oddball?
Why questions• Why would the protagonist choose this course of action?
• Why does s/he feels so passionately about this cause?
• Why does s/he fear this person, place or situation?
• Why would s/he trust or distrust this character?
• Why might s/he choose to keep this information secret?
• Why might s/he let this character get away with wrongdoing?
When questions• When might this argument happen?
• When could this scene be set to add the most potential for change and growth?
• When does the character’s normal world change?
• When is this character apt to be most stubborn? Most pliable?
• When might this character most naturally first meet my protagonist?
• When should I place the “ticking clock” deadline?
• When would my character reach a decision?
• When would forces in the story most fittingly come to a head?
How questions• How does this situation follow what came before?
• How could I best set up the next plot action?
• How might these characters hinder each other?
• How will characters obtain the skills and tools they need?
• How will the protagonist escape?
• How will s/he win back another’s trust?
• How will s/he attempt to hinder the antagonist?
• How will the antagonist react to this event or action?
If your critique partners frequently point out lack of tension in your stories, it might be due to a failure to keep curiosity piqued. Stop and think like a journalist (or detective). Starburst any big plot point you have planned. You’ll have suddenly have questions to raise as you build up to that moment.
Does raising questions come naturally to you? How might starbursting help you enhance a scene you need to revise?