Elle, in a comment to my July Author Toolbox post about intention in writing, had it right. She said, “purpose must infuse each scene, each chapter of our stories.” This is true. Each character needs to be necessary for the story you are telling–complete with its themes. And each scene needs to not only fit into the purpose of the story, but also build the story logic.
I’d like to add that story needs to say something about life, and it does so by character growth. I think writing with purpose infuses our scenes and therefore our stories.
What are you trying to prove to the reader?
In my present college memoir, I feel I’m demonstrating that naiveté comes in all forms, even a mother trying to go to college and thinking she knows how the classroom works.
Before Victoria begins her college journey, she thinks all she needs to do is pay attention in class and learn what the professor teaches.
It started with the Math I review course. Supposedly, Victoria scored high enough on the math entrance exam to take a week-long crash course in math. She was excited. She thought if she purchased the math book and studied, she’d be fine.
A few intense days of the children making her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because she was incapable of creating anything edible once she returned home from class, woke her up. The professor had been handing out worksheets without explanation, stating that she wasn’t going to insult their intelligence by re-teaching these math procedures.
Victoria finally looked around the classroom. She was the only non-traditional student in the bunch. Her own children were the ones who told her to ask the teacher for help. Once the prof showed her how to do the first problem, she had no difficulty completing the worksheet. But the prof needed to show her a problem for each math topic.
When she took full-length semester courses, for many of the subjects, there was more teaching in class.
However, Victoria’s naiveté didn’t stop there. Continuing with the assumption that a student just needs to listen to learn, Victoria discovers in the higher levels of education at university, the professors offer insight and maybe guidance, but then allow the college student to come to her own conclusions. Or be lost in the swirling details—like Victoria!
*Please feel free to offer your thoughts or comments regarding Victoria’s naiveté or ask questions about how a non-traditional student may feel lost when attending college with students young enough to be her children. This helps me to move forward on my memoir. Thank you!*
Let’s look at a few books and see if what I think the point of the story is matches your own. I’m hoping you might have read one of these titles.
Consider E. L. Konigsburg’s middle-grade novel From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler first because it’s short and a classic.
In this middle-grade book, Claudia Kincaid is like many children. She wants to be recognized for who she is; a smart 12 year old who plans things meticulously and always seems to know where she’s going and what she’s doing—until now. I don’t wish to rehash the plot, but I feel the point of the story is finding something to help you feel important.
Or how about this adult novel?
Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You is about mixed families [Asian and white] and mixed feelings, racism, and fitting in. But it is also about understanding each other and understanding happiness and how to find personal happiness—not someone else’s. I feel the point of this story is how miscommunication can ruin families or relationships.
And because I write memoir, I wanted to include a non-fiction example.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg wrote Kate Remembered and showed the interconnectedness of Hollywood and Broadway during Hepburn’s life time. He also demonstrated how Hepburn was always in charge of her own life. And that’s the way it should be, right?
To move forward in any project or plot, both writers and characters need to come to terms with whatever is keeping them from achieving their goals. For me, it is my fear of uncertainty. Would I be able to complete this new task of obtaining a bachelor’s degree from college? I need to consider that many people struggle with fear and doubt before starting something new, something that might take years to accomplish.
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