Friday, December 2, 2022

What's the Point? Why the Purpose of Each Part of Your Writing Feels So Important to Your Reader

I've written a lot in these newsletters about the stages of writing a book--the gathering of ideas, the play that comes next as the writer explores structure and flow, the refinement and revision that follows. Some writers pay no attention to these. They mix the flow writing with the editing, and they have enough skill to produce a good book. They are he lucky ones. Most of us need to keep a map along for such an onerous journey as a book, and the stages help keep the traveler oriented to where they are in the process.

One of the big tasks that comes along, often unwelcome, is asking What's the point? Writers ask this question at all stages but often it's unanswerable until revision. That's because we may not know yet. We may be writing blind, or according to an incomplete view of our book, which is completely normal and alright. It keeps us from getting too full of ourselves in the early stages.

I've read some writing recently, both unpublished and published, that had me asking that question. For the unpublished writing, there's still time to figure out the point.

One of my teachers approached it this way: Go through each chapter and write a purpose statement. What's that chapter supposed to impart or ignite for the reader? If you can't think of anything (yet) or if there are too many purposes, the chapter has not found itself yet or it should be broken into more breathable lengths--maybe two or three chapters instead of a very packed one.

Another teacher, who was a poet and lived for the perfect sentence, agreed with the chapter purpose idea. She also asked this purpose question of her pages and paragraphs. Even sentences came under question when in the very final stages of refinement.

But there's an art to the timing of this question of purpose. If you ask too soon, you'll probably only muddle yourself and sink your belief and confidence in the work-in-progress. For instance, if you succumbed to the wonderful lure of Nanowrimo last month (National Novel Writers Month--google it if you haven't already, it's an amazing event), you may have a conglomeration of speedily written chapters that repeat purposes. Just because you had a word count goal within the 30 days of Nano-time, you may not have asked about purpose. No worries there. Now you can go back and scan your chapters for what they contribute. If they don't yet, ask what they might when they grow up.

Everything in a book--and I really mean everything--must contribute. A character walks into a room, and that character is automatically tracked by the reader, consciously or subconsciously. The writer's job is to discover and illuminate that character's purpose. We travel to a certain location. Again the reader tracks this and asks why--what's the point of being here? (Sometimes, and I am guilty of this too, added locations come out of fond writerly memories, but that usually occurs in early drafts and is reworked or eliminated later.)

A few weeks ago, my aunt of 102 years passed on. She was a formidable and beloved woman, who went blind in her later years but still took painting classes and visited with friends and kept up with politics and her vast family. I remember her saying one of the things that kept her going was the desire to contribute. In some way, every single day. It was a good reason to live.

Books need this too, if they are to have longevity in a reader's heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment