Ask Yourself Why You Write

My new workshop professor this semester likes to start a discussion about a story with a few questions. Instead of immediately leaping into evaluative mode, we discuss instead what we thought the main point of the story is, why a particular voice was used, or what imperative made the writer write this story. It’s helpful for a writer to hear what readers think the point of the piece is; it can tell him or her if they are completely off track, or even if the story is rough, if the purpose still shines through.

This is a good exercise to try applying to your own writing; you don’t need a classful of students to do it for you. Once you’ve finished the rough draft of a story, take a moment before you revise and ask yourself why you wrote this story. Was there an idea or a truth you had to tell? A character you wanted to describe? A social tension you wanted to explore?

If you find it difficult to identify the driving purpose of why you wrote the story, it might be an indication that readers won’t find purpose in it either. Not every story has a big, overarching statement to it (“This story means you shouldn’t tell lies!” “This story means freedom is good!”), but most do have something urgent and imperative that has to be told or implied. If there is no imperative, then why are we reading? Why are you writing?

The point is not to question yourself until you’re a trembling wreck. The point, rather, is to begin looking at your work with a more critical and discerning eye, to figure out what will be lasting about your work — what will make it stay in a reader’s mind. What can a reader learn from your story? What moment will make him think, “I feel the same way”? Make sure your story has an imperative that answers this question, in one way or another.

7 comments

  1. Pedritter says:

    On many ocassions there is no clear goal, at first. You write sentence after sentence until a first draft is finished. And then, once the draft is not that hot, you read it again to discover the hidden goal.
    Once you have grasped the goal you were after, it is the moment to rewrite it again to make it as explicit as possible.
    However this is not my idea but Stephen king’s

  2. Tracey says:

    Great advice. Often I just write not knowing where my story is going, and than when I look back at what I write…sometimes there is no purpose.
    If I analysis the story once I am done, I can probably guide it better into stating a purpose, theme, or point I want to convey to the readers.

  3. PurpleMark says:

    I write because, I want to find out what happens! I’m writing a series of Detective Stories that are exploring the nature of Dreamtime and Reality and are discussing Philosophy and Theology under the guise of Action/Adventures.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this article,
    and ‘m feeling a lot better about not being able to lay out all the plot points when I start a fiction writing project.

    Why did I write this is one of the questions that I actually *can* answer. I probably won’t have the plot laid out and I may not be able to write the outline but I do seem to be able to start with the characters, the situation, and the purpose.

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