There are so many stories that I have read through the years that are just like “I got up in the morning. I had a really great lunch, then walked down to the beach and spent the afternoon there. There was an awesome sunset, then I went back and had a really great dinner. “As a reader you think, “Why are you telling me this? What do you want me to take away?”
You should have a very clear sense, as a writer, of what your point is. You should be able to write one pithy sentence where you say, “What I want the reader to take away from my story is ________.” If you can fill that in, you need to do some more work. Keeping that question front of mind gives you a road map, a tool to help ensure that you’re on track as you write.
This—exact same wording and all—is what I’m thinking as I’m going through the slush and reading all the “Character sat thinking to self (miserable and/or feeling sorry for self, natch) and then s/he walked around a bit (while thinking to self) and then s/he sat somewhere else (and thought some more) and so on and so forth” stories.
Why are you telling me this? What do you want me to take away?
Stories need to have a point. No, a story is not “just a story.” If you’re telling someone a story, there has to be a reason. What is it?
(If there really is no point to your story, then your story is the writing version of that boring person who yakked your ear off while saying nothing at the last family gathering or party you attended. You know who I mean. You don’t want your story to be that person.)
The thing is, I think most writers do have something they want readers to take away from their stories (yes, even the ones who claim their story is “just a story”). The problem is that the reason for telling the story is not transferring to the page. It’s stuck in the writer’s brain. It’s Hemingway and his iceberg again. The writer is aware of the whole iceberg. The reader only sees the bit that’s sticking up above the water.
Sometimes writers forget that readers can’t see the part of the iceberg that doesn’t make it onto the page. Readers don’t need to see the whole iceberg, but they do need to see enough of it to understand why you’re telling them this story. But before you can decide how much is enough, first you need to know why you’re telling the story.
Fill in the blank: “What I want the reader to take away from my story is ________.”