In my last post, I outlined GRIP, which stands for the four steps that every writer should complete before starting to write:
- set a Goal
- know your Reader
- state your main Idea
- make a Plan, or an outline.
This post focuses on the G: setting a goal.
Communication as a tool
If your life or career is a journey, you can think of your writing as a vehicle to get you from where you are to where you want to be. What are goals of a written document?
- Advertisement: to increase sales or acceptance of a product, service, idea or maybe an electoral candidate
- Proposal: to sell a project or get someone to make a decision
- Incident report: to share information so that, for example, a problem can be solved
- Progress report: to show progress to someone in charge, and perhaps to remove obstacles to further progress.
It seems that determining your goal is not easy. A lot of my students used to have trouble with the idea of the “goal” or purpose of writing. “Why am I writing? Because my professor gave me this assignment.” Unfortunately, many people take this attitude into their working lives. “My boss told me to write a report.”
A goal is an essential element of any strategy. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t tell when you get there.
A goal or purpose statement is different from the thesis statement. The thesis statement is what the document or statement is all about. It’s the most important thing that you want your audience to understand. Deciding on your writing’s destination is the last chance that you, the writer, can focus on yourself. In writing down your goal, you focus on your own needs or desires. Ask yourself: what do you want to happen? What result do you want from this document?
After the reader has finished reading your document, what do you want him or her to do?
You have to make this as clear and as concrete as possible. You goal should not be: “to raise awareness of this issue.” Go further than that: “After reading this document, I want readers to donate $x to this specific charity.”
to raise awareness of X cause
to have readers donate $N to the X society today
to advertise my product
to increase sales in y sector by z percent in the next quarter
to increase my profile
Write: to reach up to 2000 Twitter followers by the end of the year
Have a specific, concrete goal so that you can tell quickly when you’ve achieved it. Once you do, then you can set another goal for another document. Every document should have its own goal or goals. Yes, you can have more than one goal for a document: to get the boss to respect me, and to get a bigger bonus at the end of the year.
What about fiction? Can a short story or novel have a goal?
Certainly. One of Dickens’ goals was to raise awareness of, and then affect the poverty in the England of his time; Orwell wanted to warn people about the insidiousness and direction of totalitarianism when he wrote 1984. To Kill a Mockingbird and Uncle Tom’s Cabin are two other very well known novels where the author had a definite social purpose in writing them.
You can also have a goal for the plot itself. What do you want your main character to do by the end? I know that some writers claim they “write by the seats of their pants,” but I find it much better to have a result or conclusion in mind before I start writing. A lot of great ideas for stories or novels begin as an arresting line or an interesting situation. We’ve all done those exercises in creative writing class where we take a picture as the set-up for a story. The question that causes “blank screen syndrome” is, “where to go from here?”
What should your story destination be? Answer this question: what do you think your main character can accomplish? Or at least, what is he/she/it going to try to do in your story? If you have a quest, it’s easy: the MC is going to try to find the holy grail, or recover the embarrassing photo-negatives, or save the girl next door from the biker gang. You might want to picture your end scene: girl and boy at the altar, or relaxing at the luxury resort, or hanging from the gibbet.
The point is, now you have an end point to drive toward. That makes it so much easier to figure out how to get your plot from your opening to the closing. You can have a lot of fun putting in a lot of detours and side-trips, but at least you’ll be able to tell whether a line of dialogue or a particular scene help advance the plot, or just get in the way.
Now that you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to figure out how to get there. But before you get to plotting your course with an outline, you have two other steps. Taking those steps require that you know the first two rules of communication:
- Know your audience
- Know what you want to say.
The next post will address the Reader, or audience.