Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Are You Writing Your Story?

As an agent, one thing I really look for in a submission is a sense of purpose. In other words, I am looking for authors who really had a goal in mind when they were telling their story. I fully understand there are many of you out there that claim the sole purpose for telling their story is to "just tell a story." But, I have to say, in my humble opinion, and one that comes from a literary tradition, there needs to be more.

In literature, we often look at this concept when we talk about the theme of a story. What is that message you are hoping the reader/audience will walk away with. I know that one publisher I work with describes this as the "take-away."

Too often though, I see many projects that it becomes clear the author just had a great set of characters, or a plot element they wanted to build off of, but beyond that, there wasn't much more. Sure the story read great, but there was still a lingering question floating around the text. Why was I reading this?

What most people seem to forget is the theme really drives the story. It is the theme of the story - the real reason you are writing the story - that gives all of the action and the characters a purpose in the story.

I will also add that if you are some who struggles with writing queries or pitches because you fail to understand your "high concept" much of this stems from a potential issue of your story having no purpose.

So the question you get to ponder this weekend is simple. Why are you writing your story?



  1. As a writer, I think that theme comes from the story, not from you. You can think you're going to be writing about family, but the real, most interesting themes are the ones that spring up out of the words and story itself. The trick to doing that is having craft down so that your story can breathe on its own.

  2. Thanks, good food for thought as I work on my current piece. While I am considering your post, I also think Katie has some valid points. I appreciate you taking the time to produce your tips for us. The writers that read you.

  3. Sometimes, you think of a story you really like, and it resonates with you in some way. The purpose of writing the story may not be apparent to you, but it is there.

    My story is about discovering who you are and giving people a chance. You can't judge people before you get to know them, but that happens often in my book. It's also about the nature of love and how losing someone you love, though hard, is not the end of the world. You are never alone, but neither are those against you.

  4. Scott, sometimes I seriously think you've hacked into my computer or are otherwise privy to my struggles. That might mean I'm a megalomaniac... Or--I like this one better--that you've got your finger just right on the pulse of writers, and that "my" struggle isn't that unique, after all. Yes, theme--THEME! And those nasty queries and loglines and pitches that insist we sum the whole 150K into ONE line.

    Now I know that until I get that one line just right, I'm nowhere near ready to go anywhere with my WIP.