Write with purpose in mind. Edit with purpose in mind. Polish with purpose in mind. Use it as your criterion for chopping (or lack of it) and gauge your satisfaction against it. When 100% of your words are charged with meaning, your book is done.

We have expectations when we read. We might not be conscious of it, but we expect everything we read to have meaning. In great writing, we hang on every word because we know it has meaning. It was put there on purpose to impart information to us. Nothing in a great book is random. Nothing is there on whim.

If we suddenly see a word connoting sadness in the midst of a celebration, we know it’s on purpose. We know it’s a clue. It’s part of constructing the delicious puzzle that is the subtext of all great reading. Our mind starts to question what might be coming next. Why did the author insert that word? What are we feeling and why based on that trigger? What emotion is the author trying to evoke in us? We turn the pages faster to figure it out.

In great writing it’s easy to hear even the quietest of signals. A repeated word draws attention. Ah! This nobleman is actually a thief! Our minds can make huge leaps from the tiniest suggestions.

And it works both ways. Great readers are primed for suggestion. Once we suspend disbelief and give over our minds and hearts to a book, we want to be poked and prodded. We want to be led, and there is such a sense of satisfaction when something we suspected proves true – or when we realize we’ve been led astray to achieve greater effect.

Experienced writers will make the most of this very human trait. They will drop breadcrumbs. They will bait and switch, duping readers with red-herrings that keep the truth hidden until the big twist. Readers will accept this emotional manipulation, as long as it’s all part of the read and remains plausible and satisfying. It’s okay, as long as it’s all on purpose.

Readers get bored, or annoyed, if they sense things are random. If details lack meaning, the author didn’t try very hard or hold up his end of the bargain between consumer and producer. It’s like you bought a bag of M&Ms and half of them were actually BBs. You’d certainly wonder why, and you’d probably get very mad, especially if you lost a tooth.

As a writer, recognize the power of your reader’s expectations. Curb fluff, tangents, and whim and feed these expectations. Nourished, they are what great reading is all about. We have to cater to this very human trait when we write.

Early drafts may be full of unintended dead-end details, inconsistencies, and dullards. Fixing all this cruft to match the theme, plot, and message of your book is the main task of a second draft. Go through your text and cross out everything that isn’t a particular way on purpose. Examples might be the color of a dress, the location of a scene, the quirk of a main character. Draw a line through it all.

Write with purpose in mind. Edit with purpose in mind. Polish with purpose in mind. Use it as your criterion for chopping (or lack of it) and gauge your satisfaction against it.

On-purpose writing is the very best kind of writing. When 100% of your words are charged with meaning, your book is done. Anything short of it is a sin against your readers.

 

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Dawn Field

About Dawn Field

Dawn Field has written 39 posts in this blog.

Dr. Dawn Field is a book lover interested in what makes great writing. After a 20 year career as a research scientist, her first book, Biocode, was published by Oxford University Press. Now a columnist of The Double Helix, Dr. Field is exploring new writing venues and writing a second book. Based in Virginia, Dr. Field is looking to collaborate with a range of fiction writers as a writing coach, editor, and consultant on the publishing process: fiedawn@gmail.com.

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