Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Loitering With Intent


Why write? I don’t mean in general or in existential terms (I write because I must), I mean the story you’re working on at the moment, your current WiP, why are you writing it?

Most people, when asked this, will deflect or try not to give a straight answer. Like writing a pitch or a synopsis, it’s seen as an awkward chore to be done only when absolutely necessary.


I think this is mainly because we all start out as readers, and when we read, the words come first, and then we find meaning. As a writer, it works the other way round. You write to communicate something you’ve already got in your head.

There’s a romantic notion among some people that if you just write, somehow the thing in your head, whatever it might be, will come out of your fingertips and infuse the page with meaning and depth.

Some people also think a professional athlete goes on the field and pulls off a stunning move based on sheer natural talent and good luck. I’m sure sometimes it happens that way. And sometimes a writer sits in front of a blank page and magic happens. Probably. Never happens to me though. You?

Assuming you aren’t blessed with preternatural abilities, you might encounter times when you doubt what you’re doing. The whole point of writing things down for some hypothetical ‘reader’ might seem ludicrous. I know I feel like that sometimes. You?

Consider doing this. Before you even start writing your story, take a moment and write down what you hope to achieve with the story. I don’t mean ‘I want to be published, sell loads and be No.1 on the NY Times bestseller list’. I’m not advocating you utilise The Secret. I’m not talking about what you want to happen TO the story, I mean what happens IN the story. What effect do you want the story to create? What emotional impact do you want it to have?

You don’t have to be specific. You don’t have to be particularly original. You certainly don’t have to show it to anyone. But just by writing it down you will create a sense of purpose to the story which you will be grateful for during that long, dark night of the soul you will encounter (and chances are you will encounter it).

I want to write a story about a woman who doesn’t want to fall in love with her sister’s husband, but she can’t help it and I want the reader to feel that... I want to write about a knight fighting a dragon seen through the eyes of the dragon, and make the reader cry when it dies... I want the spy to be so angry with the people who make him kill innocents that the reader roots for him when he turns on his own people... whatever it is, aim high and aim big. 

You don’t have to have details or plot points worked out, but just having a sense of intent, in terms of how you want the reader to respond to the story, can lift you out of  reader-mode and into writer-mode.

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I'm planning to do a new Chapter One Analysis post soon, where I take apart the first chapter of a popular novel to see what they know that we don't (previous Chapter Ones can be found here: A Kiss Before Dying and The Notebook).

I'm looking at fantasy books this time. Possible candidates: Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind, Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart; Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games. If any of these strike your fancy or you have another nominee, let me know.

39 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I need to write down my intent next time.

K.C. Woolf said...

I'd love to see a Ch1 analysis of The Hunger Games.

Great post. I know quite well why I'm writing a particular story, but I often find it difficult to summarise in one sentence.

Lindsey said...

This is a good idea! I'll try it with my next story idea. My vote is for The Hunger Games for a chapter one analysis. :)

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

I am writing it because it burst out of me!

The Write Soil

The Stray said...

I'd love to see The Name of The Wind, because that one has such an odd beginning (since the actual story takes a bit to warm up) that knowing what it was that kept people reading would be awesome to see analyzed.

Sarah McCabe said...

Good thoughts. I'm not sure if I could put the reason I want to write this story into words. Which is a pretty pathetic thing for someone who is supposed to be good with words.

Bob Scotney said...

When the words tumble out I don't have time to think of the intent - that comes later. I write first, market after not the other way around.

Charmaine Clancy said...

I mull ideas and I write when I know where the story will end. In my current WIP I wanted to create something funny, I like a giggle.
I'm already feeling sad for the dragon and I haven't even read that story.
<a href="http://clancytales.blogspot.com>Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers</a>

Sophia the Writer said...

Do people really deflect when asked? I'll straight up tell you - my current novel I'm writing to deal with my own father issues. :P

Hunger Games for sure! You'll get a huge response with that one.

Ellie said...

A splendid post and idea. I shall definitely try this!

Ellie Garratt

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

'You write to communicate something you've already got in your head.' This is exactly right. I like your idea of pausing before writing and clarifying the purpose of your WIP. Good idea. Well said.

mooderino said...

thanks for the comments guys.

@KCWOOLF - I think that difficulty with the one line tag puts people off. That's why a broader aproach might be more effective.

@Dawn - I hope you're okay, sounds violent.

@Sarah - i think most writers have difficulty putting it into words for others, kind of embarrassing, but for yourself you can just write down whatever, just to get a handle on what can be quite ephemeral feelings.

@Bob - if you have a way that works for you I certainly wouldn't mess with it (*jealous*)

@Sophia - it depends on personality I guess. I just think it's important to know for yourself why you want to write it (which clearly you do).

A lot of support for The Hunger Games. Guess I should have seem that coming.

Sophia Richardson said...

I'm actually toying with a SNI right now, trying to figure out what this story has to offer me that would make it worth writing. So far it's ticking a lot of boxes. If the idea stays this shiny I just may have to write it when I'm done with the current WIP.

I'd like to see an analysis of Name of the Wind because like The Stray said, so far it seems to be starting off slow (I read a few pages even though I'm in the middle of another book) but I know it's gotten great reviews.
- Sophia.

Melissa Bradley said...

What a fantastic idea. I am struggling with my current WIP so I think I need to give this a try. I may find some needed inpiration. Thanks!

Karen Walker said...

I'm writing my current story because when I visited Ireland and Scotland in 2009 a voice came to me and asked me to tell their story. I couldn't say no.
Karen

Nicole said...

You make a really good point in this post and I'll have to come back to read it again or even a few more times so it can really sink in.

Based on what is addressed here, I have written for a variety of reasons. Currently, I am writing a story that is intended to represent the unreliability of public transportation. My hopes are that it will prompt people to maybe demand better service that they are paying for OR seek alternative means of transportation, which can hopefully cause public transportation companies in certain areas around the country to make improvements to their service.

The Madlab Post

Linda Leszczuk said...

Haven't approached my WIP that way. It's a good thought.

Rebecca Dupree said...

My vote---> Hunger Games. I want to read it. You will inspire me to!

Why do I write? LOL, most of the time I write for short story delines. But I like to write for emotions too.

I wanted to thank you for recomending that site to me. Sheer awesomeness.

Lydia K said...

I like the idea of an intent. I think I had that when I wrote my current project. Whether I succeeded or not is up to my readers!

Matthew Vanacore said...

I love writing because I love watching film. Pretty simple answer, right, lol! Nice post.

Carrie said...

I definitely need to think about this more when I'm writing!

Ciara said...

I write because the characters won't leave me along. :)

KatieO said...

Ooh, Ooh, the Hunger Games, please!

I've passed along a blog award to you - stop by to pick it up sometime ;-)
http://katieosullivan.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-blog-awards.html

Liz Fichera said...

Writing a character's emotion and intent(and making the reader feel that) is part of the challenge that I enjoy. It's also the part that drives me crazy.

Hart Johnson said...

I think usually my purpose is just to entertain... I occasionally will sneak in a nefarious message like 'be careful what you wish for' in the subtext and typically there is an underlying 'don't trust the people in authority'... but if it isn't entertaining, I've failed.

Michael Offutt said...

I write because I think it's fun spending time with the characters that I've created. And it's very rewarding when a reader reaches out to you because something that you wrote resonated with them.

Laurie Starkey said...

I write because of the story that's screaming to get out of my head - aching to climb out of my imagination and maybe give someone else (the potential reader) the chance, if only for a moment, to do something they never dreamed possible - to live in someone else's fantastical world.

Good stories should linger on your palate and allow you to ponder the what if's long after you've finished them. I write in hopes of being that flavor - that lingering thought in someone's mind someday.

I write to live in a world where people aren't mean, where passion in your marriage never goes stale, where an ordinary girl can catch the eye of someone extraordinary, where monsters aren't inherently evil and make incredible lovers.

I write because I can. Because I love it. Because it gives me a hope that maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and have the opportunity to dream bigger and better and more - unfolding the intricacies of a world that beckons me call in sick and pulls me from sleep late at night.

I write because fiction is my lover and I have become its slave.

Holly Ruggiero said...

I think inside we all have some intent or purpose for telling a certain story even if we can't delineate it.

Catherine Stine said...

Great new angle on the prewriting part of a new project!! I always outline, and do writing sketches when I'm gearing up for a new novel, but this is a new twist that could be quite helpful!

Alexis Bass Writes said...

Another vote for The Hunger Games! (Perhaps you could analyze the first chapter of each book in the series!)

Donna Hole said...

I actually have a premise I wrote my women's fic trilogy to. I pinned it to the wall above my computer so I wouldn't get distracted in all the character plots.

This is excellent advice, and I like how you explained it all. Very interesting.

.......dhole

Pk Hrezo said...

This is an awesome point. I've also heard this is how you nail a query--by stating why it is you had to tell this story.
I do write a logline before a write a first draft. But answering this question is a good idea too.

Sylvia Ney said...

Great advice! Many people cringe at writing an outline, but a list of goals for your story or character seems easier to write.

mooderino said...

Thanks for the different takes on this subject. I enjoyed reading them all. Cheers.

New 'Chapter One' post on The Hunger Games will be up later tonight.

Talei said...

I'm writing my current story as its a story I've carried around for like AGES. ;-) And it wants to be written, and therefore I shall do that.

Heather M. Gardner said...

I don't know why I do it. I don't know if I'll be able to stop even if I don't have the confidence to move forward. It's a frightening place to be.

Thanks for always coming to visit and lifting my spirits with your wise words.
I appreciate it.

Caitlin said...

I really enjoyed reading this, it gave me a bit to think about.

To be honest, I've never really thought about why I write.

Escape Artist said...

First. Thanks. And 'cruisey'... you got it. Very popular in NZ and Australia. I'll couple it with another for clarity, 'cause I've grown rather attached. I've tried others and it just doesn't sit as well.
I can always count on you Mood for a comment...and help! :)
Now the post on why you write what you do. Ah, good to think about for sure. For me, it's my first thought always and I've got to get a story working around it.
Probably the opposite of everyone else I bet! But you see, I need to feel that the story is about something more than just a story. That thread has to weave its way right through, so hopefully by the time the reader gets to the end, they have something left to feel and think about, beyond the story....but certainly not minimizing the story. It all has to hold hands. :)

Jo Schaffer said...

Ah. Liked this.
I definitely write with intent. A communication with the reader-- sharing thoughts, feelings and philosophies through story-- and hopefully entertaining too!

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