Is any story ever pointless? Yes, and no. Every story has at least one point, but too often we include stories in our writing that leave the reader wondering which point we were actually trying to make and if we couldn’t have just told them more simply.
You don’t want your reader wondering why you included your story, or whether you were illustrating your motivation or your opponent’s misfortune. There are two basic ways to direct your tale: either tell your reader up front what you’re illustrating, or create a tale with a structure that directs your readers’ attention to the point you want them to find. Ideally, do both.
For most of us, we’re making a specific point, or maybe two, with a given story. Maybe the story is the entire piece, or perhaps the story is part of an essay, supporting one of the premises. Either way, which details remain and what order and language they wear is determined by the point the writer means to create.
In order to direct a seemingly meandering, rambling or otherwise point-seeking story, write it however it comes out at first. Often, the first telling is chronological. That’s fine, however it comes out. When you return a few days, or even hours, later, underline possible themes, important words, images and feelings. Then, practice pruning: delete anything not related to the major theme you picked. It’s okay if it becomes smaller and smaller, the material you’re editing out isn’t disappearing into some inescapable void. This part is just to find the center of your story, the fine nub you’ll then embellish with selected details.
The crux of this method is choice. The first draft allows you to get all the moving parts out onto the table. The next step is to put aside the gear that’s the exact perfect size to turn all the other cogs, and then add the cogs back in sparingly and artfully, in a way that illuminates the working of the tale.
Next time: Structure and Function – How to Create Maximum Impact with the Fewest Moving Parts