An Introduction to Creative Writing
Purpose Process and Principles
This series of lessons is designed to help writers improve their writing by writing. It is predicated on the belief that learning to write well is not about reading, reciting, and remembering; it is about comprehension, perception, and recognition. The aim is threefold: to help writers understand the importance of purpose, to perceive writing as a process, and to recognize the underlying principles that govern that process.
Before a writer begins to write anything, he or she should ask himself or herself these three questions: (1) What is my reason for writing this? The author's reason for telling a story will color every element of the story. (2) What do I want to achieve? Is it to entertain readers? Is it to inform or to move to action? Is it to change perspective? Maybe the desire is to do all of this and more. What ever the purpose, it will have a decided influence on the execution of the writing process and the application of writing principles. (3) What response do I want to elicit from my readers? Fiction should give the reader a greater understanding of life, not attempt to inculcate a code of conduct. Good fiction helps the reader to broaden perspectives and expand horizons, not by teaching but by revealing.
Having a purpose helps the writer define his or her audience, select language, and details, and choose the approach that best suits the project.
The simplest way to define purpose is to say that it is the central concept that controls what a writer will do and say. The purposes for writing vary from discovering the writer's own feelings, to entertaining others, to recreating envisioned experiences, to constructing an imagined world.
Purposeful writing neither requires a set-in-concrete plan, nor is it always revealed in an instant or imparted abruptly. Often a writer settles on a purpose only to find that as a work progresses circumstances alter and events change to move purpose in another direction. The important thing is to recognize when purpose does change and then to work with patience and forbearance until it can once more be clarified in the writer's mind.
The exercise of prewriting can help shape and reshape purpose. Initially purpose may be vague, but sustained work will produce a moment when the writer will say, "That's it! That's what I want to say!" When purpose changes, another walk through the steps of prewriting can help interpret and restate purpose.
Purposes for writing fiction vary widely. A purpose may seek to develop an idea or a concept. It may aim at recreating a past age or building a new and fantastic world. The aim may be to create unforgettable characters. A writer should define and pursue writing aims that are important to him or her.
Process can be defined as any phenomenon which shows a continuous change over time. If we accept the concept of process, we view events and relationships as dynamic, ongoing, ever changing, and continuous. When we label something as a process we also signify that it is not static or at rest; it is moving. The components of a process interact; each affects all the others. The basis for the concept of process is the belief that the structure of physical reality cannot be discovered by human beings. It must be created by them.
The process view of fiction writing postulates that fictional reality is first an act of discovery and then an act of creation. A writer begins by discovering his or her own personal truth. Only then can he or she begin to construct a fictional reality by choosing the way in which to relate that truth by organizing plot, characters, setting, descriptions, and dialogue into a cohesive whole. The discovery comes first. The creation that follows is best constructed by the writer who is conversant with the writing process that helps him or her move a work of fiction from scene to scene and action to action.
The stages of the writing process are never simple or orderly. They are recurring, redundant, and often confusing. Writing is more than walking through a process and stringing words together. It is an activity in which various cognitive processes--planning, transcribing, and rewriting--happen repeatedly and in no particular order. It does not move smoothly from start to finish. It is disorderly, repetitious, complicated, and skewed. Writers are writing, changing, contemplating, and evaluating throughout the process. When a forced order reduces the process of writing to linear steps, the picture presented is incomplete and the process must be recognized as limited and restrictive.
It becomes apparent then, that learning to write cannot be mastered the same way one would learn facts about the anatomy of the human body, assimilate the meanings of a group of chemistry symbols, or memorize historical events. Writing involves learning a process and that is always more difficult than memorizing a group of facts. And it is a back-and-forth procedure. It is achieved in a round about, often repeated progression rather than in a straight line. There are no guarantees of a continuous, forward-moving improvement.
Effective writing involves the three basic steps of the writing process, which are prewriting, writing, and rewriting.
Prewriting is a time when the author attempts to understand and organize the creative impulse. He or she is working out problems of purpose, point of view, audience, and structure. Prewriting can take anywhere from an hour or so to days and weeks, possibly years. Sometimes what the author does not do, or what he or she fails to address during prewriting, can be as significant as any conscious deliberation.
Two prewriting exercises are brainstorming, which is an unstructured probing of a topic, and free writing which is a risk-free way of getting words onto a page without having to worry about their correctness.
Writing involves the starting ritual, finding a pace, setting goals, and imposing self-discipline. The first lessons in this book emphasize self-expressive writing through reading and writing descriptions, simple stories about concrete subject matter. The writing then progresses into more complex categories.
Rewriting concerns revising, reviewing, and editing. Consideration is for both the process and the product. The composing process is not a linear sequence of separate stages; prewriting and rewriting are concurrent activities repeated over and over again as the writer comes progressively closer to resolving incongruities between what he or she wants to say and what he or she has written.
Rules are not principles and it is important to understand the difference between the two. Rules are facts. They are particular, rigid, and concrete and applied only in certain limited contexts. The competent writer knows the rules of writing. Principles and truths are general, abstract, and flexible enough to be broadly applicable. The good writer is conversant with the principles behind the rules.
Any rule is a particular application of a general principle. The rule applies even if the user is ignorant of the principle behind it. The better the user of the rule understands the principle governing that rule, the better able he or she is to apply the rule with judgment and discernment. For example, coherence is a fundamental principle of composition. It demands that each element in a piece of fiction be so arranged and bear such a relationship to all the other elements, that the meaning of the whole is clear and comprehensible. Understanding the principle of coherence gives substance and importance to the rules clarifying that concept.
It is important to know the rules of writing fiction. It is more important to grasp the basic principles behind those rules. Both rules and principles can be useful; however, if they are interpreted narrowly and applied dogmatically they can be as much a determent as they are a help.
This series of lessons define purpose as the central concept that controls what a writer will do and say. It presents writing as process that has been reduced to linear steps and as such, has limitations. It theorizes that the rules of writing and principles governing those rules for writing are best learned in the context of writing.