Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Know Where You Are Going

When I work with students on writing research papers, I always pound the idea of having a strong thesis. That single sentence provides all of the guidance necessary to creating a great paper, assuming you follow it. Of course, for many writers, they seem to feel that creative writing is somehow different. Oh how wrong they are. While you might not have a formal thesis statement, you still need to have a target that you are shooting for.

I always recommend to writers to sit down, before even crafting a story and figure out what they want the reader to leave with, once that book is closed. This is not just simply some great metaphorical statement, but something tangible. In other words, you can't just say this is a story about lost love, give us something to work with.

Once you have established that concept, it is important that everything you do in that story aims toward that single goal.

I am reading a book right now that honestly, if I were the editor, I would have hacked the heck out of the story. I see the goal, I see the focus, but there are numerous scenes that do nothing more than fill space. There is no purpose within the story. Sure the scenes are written well but there is nothing to advance the central idea of the story.

Every scene you add to a book as to have a purpose. It may be to give us some insight into the character. It may be the next level of the rising action. It has to be there for a reason.

I am always reminded of something I have to remember in theatre. When the character moves across the stage, or for that matter does anything, there needs to be a reason. Creating a balanced tableau is not a reason. The same goes for your writing.

Your goal this week. Hack every scene (and yes I mean every scene) that does nothing to advance the thesis of your story.



  1. The thesis concept clicked for me! Thanks for passing this on.

  2. Combing through scenes, I uncovered a superfluous character. I hinted at a past relationship there and then let it drop. He added nothing, so he has been replaced with some imagery that actually adds to the scene. Thanks for the great advice. Well worth the effort!

  3. I am on it! I get it. I just don’t do it!

  4. I think it was Mark Twain who said, "If there's a gun on the mantel in acts 1 and 2, it had better go off in act 3. Similarly, if a gun goes off in act 3, it had better have been on the mantel in acts 1 & 2!"

    Good post, everything must advance the storyline :)


  5. LOL, DH bought a new supa-dupa hedge trimmer today. Considering using for some serious MS hacking, Scott. ;0

  6. This advice brings back memories of my first chapter (and 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th) :) submitted to a critique group. One thing the critters stressed was starting the work in the right place. Each chapter needs to drive the story forward, not just provide frivolous information. If the story starts in chapter 7, then cut the first six chapters and turn chapter 7 into chapter 1.

  7. Knowing where you are going…Couldn’t disagree more. Pretending to know what a novel is about from the get go is like asking a five year old what he wants to be when he grows up. “A fireman!” he says. I laugh. I laugh years later when he graduates law school. Planning a story is ludicrous…unless, of course, your only ambition is to write formula work and want to grow up to be an accountant making everything add up.

    But life (and most stories) don’t always add up. They don’t fit neatly in a box. I took up writing to escape the box. Formulas are safe. Plans are comforting, knowing where you have to be a sunset. Sorry, give me the open road. Before I hit the sack, I’ll cut always the slag and have a great story.

    The joy of writing is its organic nature, like life. Stories grow, take on character all their own. And very often have far more interesting personalities as a multi-dimensional story line than a march to a singular purposed drumbeat. Beam me up, Scotty!