Sometimes, writers make the common mistake of chasing a story without knowing its’ purpose. I’ve done it too many times to count, but I know better than that now, and you should, too. Writing a story without a purpose, a point, ensures one of two things: you’re either going to have one heck of a rewrite in store during the editing process, or, in all your ignorance, you’re going to forego the point altogether and have a shallow, weak story on your hands. The latter should not even be an option; however, in the age of self-editing and self-publishing and arrogant independence, it’s happening all too often.
The easiest way to lower your chances of having an unmanageable first draft on your hands is to understand why you’re writing the story you’re writing in the beginning of your writing process. Seek the purpose of the work by looking farther than the first answer that comes to mind. “I want to share the story of me and my ex in a disturbing, dramatic novel because it would shock my readers into liking the work,” is a superficial answer. It’s the type of answer you can tell the media because that’s what they want to hear. It may even be the reason you pursued publishing the book – seemed like it’d be a money-maker. That’s great and all, but it should not be the true intention behind the work. After they’ve read your story, readers should walk away knowing the point of it. Beware, this is a tad different than the theme and subliminal messages you’ve inserted into the fiction. The fundamental point of any journey is one of two things – either the growth or destruction of a character. The secondary point is the theme, or the central message/lesson learned from the story.
In any non-tragic story, the protagonist goes on a journey to achieve some form of growth. If the story is tragic, the point of the journey is to reveal disintegration until destruction. Either way, a transformation must take place in order for the journey, or story, to be complete. The journey, remember, is what the plot is all about. Every plot takes the character(s) and the readers on a journey that transforms them – in a psychological way for the most part (the character’s way of thinking and perception), but sometimes also in a physical way.
Digging deeper into what the point of your story is—overall growth or overall disintegration—can guide your writing and keep it focused. Not knowing the deeper meaning or end goal of your story often leads to a work of fiction that is unfocused, chaotic in structure, and shallow in nature. It’s the story you want to enjoy, but can’t. It’s the story that you forget. Worst of all, it makes your writing tragic and your story useless.
Don’t let this happen to you. There is nothing more disappointing than spending all your time writing something only for it to turn out to be shallow junk; I would know. As you write and revise the beginning of your first draft, figure out whether your protagonist(s) will experience growth or destruction of their character/identity by the end. Ask yourself these questions to find out the purpose of the plot before/as you write.
I’m not telling you to follow some strict format and burden yourself by attempting to stick to it. Instead, write with abandon – just know why you are writing, at all times. After all, it is a key part of effective communication.