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Monday, May 23, 2016

So, What's It All About?

Today's post is a rerun but worth repeating. If you're like me, you sometimes need a nudge to remember something from long ago. 

“The difference between real life and a story is that life has significance, while a story must have meaning.

The former is not always apparent, while the latter always has to be, before the end.”
Vera Nazarian 

This author quote comes from a writer who is known for fantasy and science fiction works, both novels and short stories. Her premise that a story must have meaning can be expanded into nonfiction works, as well. If there is no meaning to what we write, what's it all about? We don’t put hundreds of words together to babble. We have a reason for writing. There is something we hope to convey to our readers.

In other words, be sure there is a why I wrote this aspect to everything you write. What is it that you're attempting to show the reader? Essays, including personal essays, should include some universal truth. Essayists don’t string words together because they like the way they look. They have something to tell you. Even if it is only one line, it can be the entire reason for the rest of the piece which illustrates the idea behind the essay. It's why you wrote it.

After you're finished with a story, a nonfiction essay or memoir piece, read it over again and ask yourself what the meaning of the entire piece is, what did you try to portray to the reader. If you can't find it, your reader certainly won't either. And I am not suggesting that there be a line in the story that says I wrote this because.... Definitely not. It needs to be there for the reader to find. We might consider the meaning of what is written as the hidden treasure--something not to stay buried but to be found and savored by the reader. There need be only one golden nugget within a story but let it shine.

I've noted many times when someone offers a critique in my online critique group, they will ask why the writer wrote the piece. They want to know what the meaning is, especially if it is not obvious. Sometimes the meaning of what we write is very clear, while others remain a bit too deeply entrenched. A good writer will make sure the reader knows the meaning and a good reader will be able to find it.

We don’t always begin a new story, essay or memoir piece with the idea we want to get across to our readers as our prime objective. In telling your story, the meaning should emerge. If it doesn’t, ask yourself what in the world you’re trying to say. Even when we write a story to entertain others, there should be some worth to it.

Look at a few synonyms for the word meaning. Maybe they will clarify that word. There are a lot of them listed in a thesaurus. A short list includes sense, purpose, aim, essence, intrinsic value, object, intent, and symbolization.

Writers who tend to ramble usually have no real purpose in what they write. They can write hundreds of words that may sound poetic, or trip merrily off the tongue but are worth a lot of nothing. Include the meaning to give the reader that special “Aha!” moment, even if it’s rather subtle. 

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