Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Writer's Resolution 6 - Deep Reasons for Writing

Yeah, yeah -- self expression. Fame. Fortune (ha!). I can write a better (romance, space opera, sports) novel than what I'm reading. These are what you might say when people ask you why you write.

All fine in their own ways, but you need better reasons than those to write a novel or a screenplay (if it is intended to be sold or published).

I have been vividly reminded of this when I've mentored other writers and asked them why they were writing a novel. (Often because what they were writing confused me or didn't seem compelling.) To date, very few have had good answers -- to start. When they come up with better answers, lots of problems are solved.

What's a good answer? Here are some that seem to drive good storytelling:
  • The characters won't shut up.
  • This is a high concept and it engages me.
  • I can take this further than anyone else has.
  • It's what I want to find on the bookshelf.
  • I don't have any choice.
Even one of these can have enough power to push writing to a higher level. And this is especially true if the statement is followed by paragraphs of enthusiastic elaboration.

At times, there can be other explanations:
  • This illuminates an under-appreciated social problem and could ignite change.
  • This educates people on an important scientific topic.
  • This is an emerging topic with depth.
These answers result from analysis, and, though the first one suggests emotional commitment, aren't obviously personal.

The explanations that are most questionable (if this is all the has going for it) and put me on alert that more is needed are:
  • It seemed like a cute concept.
  • I've got a great scene in my head.
  • I won't need to do research.
  • This actually happened to me.
  • It gives me an excuse to deduct a trip.
  • I already have pages written. 
None of these are bad. But when something is amusing, it is not likely to be engaging or necessary. And utilitarian arguments show no respect for the audience or the authors own time.

Spending an hour or even a week poking at a project that won't pan out is fine. Spending months or years of your life without at least one powerful reason -- clearly articulated -- is madness.

Why are you writing your novel or screenplay?

My online "How To Write Fast" course just began on Feb. 1 You can still sign up.
Face-to-face romance (love scene) is set for Feb 13; SF (plot) on March 5 at the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY.
My online "Novel in a Month" class begins March 2. 

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