Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Four P's Approach to Writing: Purpose

The Four P’s Approach to Writing: Purpose
I. Purpose
“Commitment to Excellence”
-Al Davis’ organizational theme for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders

A. Professional Purpose as a Writer
Everything needs a purpose.  Everything worth doing should have a purpose. A writer’s purpose should be formed from each individual’s desires and goals.  A writer needs to decide what they want to accomplish and where they want to go.  Full time or part time writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Which genre and POV?  Once this general purpose is defined, develop a road map of how you plan to get there; conferences (live and online), professional development materials, reading and writing, etc.  Don’t worry, though, defining oneself as a writer does not mean to pigeon-hole yourself with limits and constraints, it means pointing yourself in the right direction and launching yourself into the correct orbit to fulfill your goals.  I used to tell my players, my role as a coach was to wrap my arms around each of them through challenges, discipline and pressure to provide an environment where the only place for them to grow was upward.

Exercise: One purpose of mine as a writer is to try and promote reading among young males. I was shocked by how few of the kids I coached read on a regular basis. I don’t know the answers. I do know, however, how much they love STORY, how much they love listening to stories, pregame speeches, stories about old times, games, etc.  We just need to find a way to connect the dots between story and reading. Take a moment and define a purpose for yourself as a writer. 

B. Story Purpose
A story also needs a purpose. The story needs to know what it is and where it is going. Those ideas rattling about in my head are just random flashes of complete brilliance until I apply some sort of purpose and direction to them. I found some advice from James Hull on a four part story structure (Inciting Incident, First Act Turn, Second Act Turn, and Ending) to help establish a structure to my story ideas. I found several very helpful (and free) writing articles on his website (www.storyfanatic.com ).  To line up those random flashes floating around in the writer’s mind into a logical story order, there must be a purpose of direction, a beginning, middle and an end structure to the story. At this initial stage, the structure doesn’t need to be chiseled in stone; really, it can be made of mud pies and twigs for all that matters, as long as there is a sense of story purpose to get it moving down the road.

As you write your story, you start to create a purpose of action to move the story forward from beginning to end. Move your story forward by logical means with use of cause and effect. Simply put, move the story along by setting up problems and solving them. Logical, meaning to stay within the story logic you have created, i.e. your cannibalistic pink fluffy bunny attacking and eating a colony of chocolate bunnies may not be logical in the real world, but since you have successfully created a dystopian world of warring inanimate bunny factions, it works. Create problems to solve using a mix of mega-gargantuan problems to miniscule problems, intense problems to benign problems, all kinds of problems are important and move the action forward in your story.

(Note: James Hull’s Story Fanatic collection of articles is written from a screenwriter’s point of view and directed to screenwriters. At first, I  ignored the email updates from a screenwriter’s newsletter I somehow signed up for, then after reading a few of his posts, it became apparent that a screenwriter’s techniques are not such bad pieces of advice for a novelist in these very visual media based times we live in.)

Exercise: Take one of those beautiful ideas bouncing around in your head, you know, maybe that emotional one hiding back there in limbic limbo next to your hippocampus.  Write four sentences to map out a potential story structure.  The first sentence should get the ball rolling with an inciting incident.  The second sentence introduces a problem and in the third a potential solution.  Finally, the fourth sentence is the ending.
1. Inciting Incident –The bunny factions on the island don’t get along and begin a feud.
2. 1st Act Turn – Pink fluffy bunny attacks chocolate bunny castle and eats half a dozen chocolate bunnies.
3. 2nd Act Turn – The chocolate bunnies unite forces with the Tonka dump truck fleet to capture pink fluffy bunny, drive him to the edge of the waterfall and dump him over the raging falls.
4. Ending – The bunnies are tricked by the Tonka truck fleet, are also dumped over the falls, and the island is taken over by the Tonka trucks new allies, Barbie and G.I. Joe.


Lisa Forget said...

Simple and very effective advice.

This is a great exercise to get idea out of your head and onto paper.

Love it!

Thank you for this post and for reminding us that we need to focus a little more on providing engaging stories for young male audiences.


Mike Hays said...

Writing down idea drafts in the four steps by James Hull helps capture the complete idea for later development,especially when an idea hits me in the middle of the work day. I have lots of scrap paper around the lab for this.