The following is an excerpt from Elisa's upcoming book, The Writer's Habit. Here she discusses the importance of rhetorical purpose as applied to novel writing.
Your awareness about what and why you are writing—that is, your rhetorical purpose—will assist you in how well and/or for whom you write. Remember what I said earlier: writing is a series of choices and decisions.
For example, I have an idea for a novel: What if a woman walks into a coffee shop and sees a man who was her next-door neighbor when they were children? What if she hasn’t seen him in thirty years, when he and his family left town mysteriously in the middle of the night? What if, in present day, this man and woman are instantly attracted to each other? What if the man is keeping a secret connected to that move?
Sounds like I’ve got the makings of a Mystery/Romance. So now I have to make some choices. For instance, I know that it’s not good to reveal too much information too soon in a mystery; otherwise, I’ll lose my readers’ interest. And readers of romance don’t like when the hero and heroine get together too soon. So I need to make good decisions about creating suspense, like the heroine putting the puzzle together one piece at a time, or the mystery man showing up unexpectedly at her home or workplace.
I also know conflict is important in stories, so I need to think about what kinds of scenes will create conflict, or how to capture conflict on every page, be it through dialogue, description, or putting my characters somewhere they don’t want to be.
When it comes to characters, I need to determine their likability. If a protagonist is too unlikable, will readers be willing to invest in her? What do they look like? Is the mystery man handsome or creepy-looking? What are their flaws? Is the heroine nosy or afraid of confrontation? Are they attracted to each other despite being married to others, or are they each single?
I also need to choose appropriate names for my characters. Do I want popular, general names like Michael, John, or Heather, or do I want unusual names like Severen, Ravelle, or Marika? How will the name reflect the identity of the character? Perhaps I want a name that connotes some kind of symbolism, like Reade for a librarian, or Faith for a woman who is overly trusting.
And let us not forget how important a title is in terms of persuading an audience to pick up a book. Childhood Neighbors doesn’t really hook a reader, or hint that the story is a mystery. However, The Boy in the Basement might pique our curiosity.
Writing is about decision-making as much as it’s about language and expression and persuasion and communication. Good writers make good decisions. Bad writers make bad decisions. And sometimes, good writers make bad decisions. I think the cause for some bad writing is fear. When the writing is bad, it signifies that we’re afraid of doing it wrong, or getting the bad grade or the one-star review. We’re afraid that people aren’t going to get it. Worse, we’re afraid that they’re not going to like it. Hell, we’re afraid they’re not going to like us. We’re afraid of being no good.
Fortunately, we can fix that. And we will.
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