If you’ve ever had a glorious stretch of time in front of you (or a hurried ten minutes) and sat down (or stood up) to power through your daily word count only to know you were doomed from the first letter, chances are, it came from a lack of writing with purpose.
Writing with purpose means you understand what you are trying to convey in a scene is before you start writing it. This was a lesson I took a long time to learn, and I still haven’t fully internalized it. But I have learned enough to really feel the difference between having a scene with a purpose and trying to dig through words to find it.
Every writer’s process is unique. Some writers have no trouble identifying the point of a scene and then sitting down to write it. Others honestly can’t come up with a scene “goal” until they’re actually writing the scene. Some of us, self included, wiffle between the two. “Goal-oriented” scene writing can be of use to both plotters and pantsers, just at different points in the writing process. For me, some scenes make it patently obvious why they want or need to be written.
Many times, these scenes-that-identify-themselves are consequences of a character’s previous actions (Lin has spent years working to make her company attractive to investors, and done such a good job that the investors took over the entire company and laid her off), or challenges to his core self-concept (Jack will do just about anything to protect his friends, including staying away from them to keep them safe, so the scene must be written where one of Jack’s friends calls and says, “We need you here with us.”).
Other scenes need to have their purposes teased out of them in the revision stage. I often find myself at a point in my story where I’m cataloguing what I call the “Bathrooms on the Enterprise” syndrome, wherein I have to write out the minutiae of the characters’ lives and interactions. I do this for two reasons–one, to assure myself the characters really do exist in their world, and two, because I need to catalogue that mundanity to distract my conscious mind so my subconscious can send up the real reason for the scene. When that happens, I know that I have to do one of two things. I either have to stop writing the scene and noodle out the purpose on a piece of scratch paper–and yes, for me, it’s better if it’s paper and pen. Or I have to give myself permission to write a sloppy draft scene with the full expectation that most of it will be cut and rewritten in the revision stage.
When you write a “goal-oriented” scene, you’ve identified a point in the plot or characterization that you want to convey through the scene. Consequently, you write the scene to convey that plot point or characterization layer, and when it’s been successfully conveyed, the scene’s done. Having purpose-driven scenes will help you make every word count, and keep your story on track and moving forward.
And to be perfectly honest, if you already have a scene goal in mind, then the next time you have ten free minutes, you won’t be spending six of them warming up to what to write. With summer coming, those of us who write at home in the quiet of the school day won’t be getting as much of a great stretch of time as we have gotten used to. So planning for the summer’s changed schedule will help you out
Even Purposelessness Has A Purpose
And man, if I were playing Scrabble, I would have brought the house down with “purposelessness.”
Have you ever just sat down and noodled around with a blank sheet of paper or a fresh document? If you haven’t, consider doing it once in awhile. Sometimes when you’re stuck on your current project or your mind needs a break, freewriting can be a great exercise for loosening your writing muscles and also for connecting with your subconscious (your Muse, your inspiration, whatever). Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” advocates “morning pages” – sitting down each morning and writing out three to five pages of whatever’s on your mind, with the full intent of not reading them, just to get that mental clutter out of the way first thing. Then spending the rest of your day creating.
My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, blessed me with many more of the “scenes with a purpose” right out of the gate than some of my other WIPs. Please consider checking it out if you love bad boys who have goals! 😉
She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.