Monday, July 2, 2018

Stories Must Have A Purpose

It is all about theme for me.

This is a pet peeve of mine. I really do hate stories (and movies too) that have no purpose. You know the type. You sit through a movie or you read a book, and when the end comes, you sit there and think, "What was the point of all of this?" I want to leave with a take-away.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying that your story needs to have this huge, cosmic moral that forces the reader to have to enter a monastery for a year just to digest the wisdom of your words. I am talking about something that just makes us think.

Think of the book by Frances Mayes, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN. Please note, I am talking about the book, not the movie. Although the book is about her renovating the house, it is really about learning what is truly important in life. The house, obviously, is a metaphor, but in the end, the take-away is for readers to look around their life and determine what is important and what isn't.

Too often, I find that authors have simply decided on two characters, they throw them in a setting and let them talk and do things together. Regency romances where he has come home from the war and she is in London for the Season to find a husband. OK, so what about it? What are we learning from it? Who cares?

This is just a plot. These are just characters. But if there is no driving theme to keep the story moving, the story is just going to feel flat.

I should also note, that finding a theme to the story, AFTER you write the novel is not always going to work. This is especially true when you are thinking about the high concept for your story. I remember a workshop I taught about query letter writing and I saw an entire room faced with the same problem. When we talked about the high concept and the purpose of their book, they all sat in shock. They didn't have one, but were trying to make one for their story that simply had no purpose.

I don't care if you are someone who seriously plots, or someone who writes from the seat of your pants, you need to think about what is going to be the driving theme of your story before you start writing.

1 comment:

  1. Another great post. I'm working on a book now that I had to shelve for a long time because, although I had some really interesting characters and a plot, I wasn't sure myself the point of the story. I've been mulling it over for years. Really. And finally I figured out what the main point of the book is. I'm doing a rewrite now, and what a difference it makes. Sadly (since I like your posts so much and think you are probably a great agent), it's not something you would handle. But I always learn a lot about the craft from reading your posts.