Make a mission, find a theme

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Skills in composing and revising prose will not be enough to create a memorable, salable story. In addition to crafting sentences carefully, you must draw the map for your book, story or play. Why are you writing this work of art? What is your mission that brings you to the notebook or keyboard every day?

You are searching for a theme. This is a element of writing as important as knowing your characters cold, casting captivating conflict, or painting a setting vivid enough for a reader to live in. One way to begin this essential process is to create a mission statement for your story.

Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute sets out his process for a story’s mission statement.

  1. To tell who will tell the story
  2. To describe the challenges in language, and how you might overcome them
  3. To name the most important, essential content of the story
  4. To describe the story’s form
  5. To name your ambitions and goals for telling the story

Clark says in his Writer’s Toolbox

Most writers aspire to some invisible next step — for a story or for a body of work. For some, this aspiration remains unfilled and metastasizes. Writing down your mission turns your vague hopes for for a story into language. By writing about your writing, you learn what you want to learn.

It’s no coincidence that Clark used that last sentence. Earlier in Clark’s Writing Tools, he passes on a maxim from Donald Murray, the Pulitzer-winning writer of journalism, novels and textbooks like Write to Learn. Murray says that good writers turn stories into workshops, intense moments of learning where they advance their craft.

Murray talks about a daybook in his textbook, a place to write about the goals of your writing, as well as examining language. It’s a concept also visited by the fine “So, Is It Done Yet?” DVD on revision. Get out a notebook and start a daybook on your story. Make a mission statement the first thing you accomplish.

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