Writing a Discussion Section in a Book

discussion sectionAnother section of the back matter that may or may not be included in a book is the discussion section. If it seems like many of the sections of the back matter are optional, that’s because they are! There are certain things that find their way into every book’s back matter (such as an about the author section and about the type), however, sections like the epilogue, appendix (or appendices), glossary, and discussion section are entirely optional, and their inclusion depends on the book and the author.

What is the Discussion Section?

If the book is slated to be discussed in high school or college English courses, or if it’s marketed as a book club selection, the author and publisher may elect to include a section at the end of the body text (the story) that introduces questions about the story and facilitates an academic discussion of the themes, characters, and deeper meanings.

The great thing about literature is that it’s rarely about what is on the surface. Delving deep into books and searching for meaning beneath the story can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Writing is an art, and art impacts culture and history. The discussion section, then, is where that impact is unearthed and explored.

Why are Discussion Section Questions Useful?

The discussion section isn’t meant to supply the only discussion topics a class or book club can cover. This is merely a starting point for a fuller conversation. Despite it being “fiction,” a lot of learning can stem from reading novels. Novels are meant to reflect real life (yes, even if they’re science fiction or fantasy!). A lot of truth can come from made up stories. The discussion section of a book is meant to begin this search of truth. The questions aren’t meant to be rigidly followed. Instead, they start as a jumping off point. The class or book club can take the conversation wherever it naturally goes.

Discussion sections can also help young readers or new readers begin to think more critically about books. They can help frame how readers approach future reading endeavors.

Thinking Critically About Your Writing

For the self-published author, writing the discussion section may be the easiest part of creating the book – or it may be the hardest. Sometimes it can be hard to look at your own writing – something you’re incredibly close to, in every possible way – and see it as a reader and critical thinker might.

It might be worthwhile to enlist the help of a friend or mentor during this step. They can help provide valuable insight into how a reader looks at your book – what does the reader think about your protagonist? How do they see the resolution?

If you decide to go it alone, be sure to devote the proper amount of time to this. Take some time away from your book, then come back to it with refreshed eyes. Read through it, see what questions you have along the way, and try to find repeating motifs and themes.

Examples of Possible Discussion Section Questions

Obviously the types of questions included will vary by book. There is not set sample. To provide an idea of what the discussion section may possibly look like, let’s explore a few of the questions featured in the back matter of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.

  • Question 1: What can be understood from what the monster reads? Does the monster’s reading lead him astray or equip him to deal with the world?

This question is interesting, because while it seems, on the surface, to simply be asking students or readers to discuss only what’s in the book, it can possibly lead to a discussion of reading in general: is reading a way to escape or avoid our problems? Or does it equip us to deal with the world and our personal issues?

  • Question 2: What is it [that makes Frankenstein so immensely popular]? The danger of scientific Prometheanism…? The pathos of being an outcast? Fear of the dead coming to life and seeking revenge?

This question doesn’t just prompt students and readers to discuss the various themes of the book – it also asks them to evaluate the themes’ effect on the world. It forces them to try to think broadly about why so many people, over so many years, have felt drawn to this story. Why are the themes so universally felt? What does Frankenstein have to say about humanity as a whole?

For the self-publisher, it may be an interesting journey to try to see your work through a critical thinker’s eyes. What connections can you make between your book and life itself? What comfort can a reader find in your words? How can your story inspire others?