Finding the Purpose

Upon reading a recent post where I discussed pens and an old friend from high school, my sister Lauren pointed out her wish for a broader why? in the writing.

“As it stands,” she said, “it’s warm and innocent and beautiful.” Stop it, I’m blushing.

“But if I had a wish,” she went went on, “I’d love to read this with a little more about the why’s, the lessons, or a parallel into some other life truth or something weaved in.”

Well. Yes, she’s right. In writing, I so often find myself stopping at my original thought. But this often leaves my writing feeling unfinished, without depth. When I finish my original thought, I need to stop and think how does this connect to broader life? Why does this matter?

This is something that Hank and John Green do beautifully in the weekly videos on their Vlogbrothers YouTube channel.

Hank even describes this phenomenon at 2:55 in this lovely video about arbitrary human design.

And just for fun, here is another Vlogbrothers video, made by John this time. It’s one of my favorites.

I think the thoughts bouncing around in my head at present can be summed up in the words purpose and meaning. That’s what I feel I’m often missing in my work.

What is the purpose of this story? Of this drawing? The meaning of this video? What am I hoping for friends and folks to get out of this thing I’m making? If it is simply beauty, then great. But there is often more room than I think for deeper purpose and beauty to live side by side.

That’s something I’m trying to learn right now. How to infuse purpose and meaning.

Those are very abstract words that do not lend themselves to a very tangible goal, but I will work on reducing the thought down in the stew pot of my mind to a more understandable objective.

Margaret Atwood’s rule of conflict

Today is the 20th day of my 30-Minutes-of-Learning-Challenge. Gosh, it just rolls off the tongue.
Yesterday, I finished a fantastic course on storytelling by Neil Gaiman on Masterclass. Today, I started a course on creative writing (again on Masterclass) by Margaret Atwood.

One thing she said in this first lesson really stuck out to me.

“A story needs a break in the pattern.”

Her way of thinking about conflict is simply to frame it as a break in the pattern for the world or character you’re focusing on. For example…

“Susan gardens every day. She loves to garden – weeding and tending to her plants for hours upon hours. One day, Susan again grabbed her gloves and shovel, pulled on her crocs like always and clomped out to the backyard to find a severed hand sitting next to her tomato bushes.”

Susan gardens every day. Today, a hand was sitting in her garden. This is a clear break in the pattern, a clear break in the routine. It immediately creates conflict for our character, and it can immediately create intrigue for the reader.

I quite like this way of thinking about conflict in story.