Writing with Purpose


Over at Lunch Ticket, Bettina Gilois writes a blog called “Writing: The Toolbox.” In her 8th installment, she discusses character, and the necessity for a reader’s emotional investment:

As writers we are the pusher man for the reader, we control supply and demand. We get the reader hooked, and once hooked we tease with a controlled giving and taking, dealing in identification and fantasy, creating want and tension, and doling out relief and reward.

Gilois advises writers to incorporate philosophical statements as part of character building:

Philosophical statements by your characters elevate the material from a pragmatic and dramatic narrative to something that holds greater value and endures through time. While it also serves as characterization, it satisfies the reader with recognition of self in the greater context of what it means to be human.

To me, this is what mediocre writing lacks. As a young adult author, it’s important to provide sustenance in a variety of ways–be it philosophical statements or scenes that place characters in difficult situations in order to prove their mettle (or not, because that can be fun, too). In these ways, a young reader receives more than just entertainment. She is nourished by the story; he learns without an obvious moral.

So, how do you accomplish this task of writing with purpose? How do you use your characters to say something important?


About MidwestVoice

PUSHCART PRIZE nominee, winner of the Beullah Rose Poetry Prize from SMARTISH PACE, and Semi-Finalist for AMERICAN SHORT FICTION's Short(er) Fiction Prize, Jennifer Pruiett-Selby lives in rural Iowa with her husband and five children. Her work has found homes with PRAIRIE SCHOONER, SUGAR HOUSE REVIEW, NOTRE DAME REVIEW, CALYX, HOBART, PINCH, LUNCH TICKET, H_NGM_N, and her column, 'Awkward in the Midwest,' appears with EASY STREET MAGAZINE. A woman of contradictions, Jennifer joined the military to find peace. Afterwards, she earned a Master’s in English from Iowa State University, an institution whose focus and funding lies with science and technology—not liberal arts. She now owns the local newspaper with her husband in his hometown, where her search for peace continues in the form of meditation through writing.

7 responses »

  1. Being a writer is a business….one with horrible pay for most, but still a business. All business’s have mission statements. I think it might help new writers to create a mission statement for the book they’re writing. Then, they should set the mission statement aside and write the first draft. When they’re revising the first draft, that’s when they should pull the mission statement out to see how close they came to hitting the mark. Granted, all of this is only an opinion.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Instead of looking at the whole, I concentrate on character: who she is and how she should react and how she really reacts. By being true to the character, life lessons can be taught without being preachy.

    • That’s a good way to really bring them to life. Sometimes I even feel bad for putting my characters in certain situations. Once, I had to take a break from writing for about a month to deal with some real-life family issues, which left my characters (4 kids) up in the attic the whole time. I actually felt guilty about neglecting them! Maybe that sounds crazy, but that’s how realistic my characters become to me! 😉

  3. Hi Jennifer, I tend to write and allow my characters to shape the story, over time a theme develops and I discover that it has wound its way through out the story. When I go back to edit, I work on ways of deepening and developing scenes that can even explore these ideas in new ways. I am often surprised by my characters and some of the gold they dig up. I agree though having our stories delve into the deep questions of life is the whole reason I write. Thanks for the great post!

    • Thank you for contributing to our conversation! It’s interesting to read the ways everyone develops characters, and it goes to show there’s no wrong way. I love the idea of letting it happen organically, then going back to deepen the scenes. That’s a smart way to bring them to life! I remember reading that, as Laurie Halse Anderson was writing SPEAK, her protagonist would wake her up in the middle of the night to go write. It’s funny how that happens. They become more real than some people.

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