The Promise: An Author's Statement of Purpose
Most great novels have a message – some feeling or idea for the reader to take away. Great novels perform inception, changing the reader by the turn of the final page. Setting goals for your novel helps you explore your novel’s message. And I believe that sharing these with your readers will help you find your audience more quickly.
Writing Goals Helps you Focus
I design video games for a living. When I write a game design, the first thing I do is list out my goals by answering these questions: What am I trying to accomplish with this design? What problems does it solve? How do I want the player to feel? Because I was used to this, and because it works well, listing my goals was the first thing I did when I gathered all my brainstorm notes for The Day Eight Series and sat down to start outlining.
Goals for The Day Eight Series
Here were my first goals:
To introduce the incredible concept of the Technological Singularity to the mass market in an exciting and approachable way. (Currently, the topic is relegated to Sci-Fi.)
To make readers reflect on their place in the universe and what it means to “exist.”
To explore the conflicts between science and spirituality.
To keep the pages turning with fast pacing and quickly-escalating stakes.
You need goals because without the constant reminder of what you’re setting out to achieve, you will meander and write a story with less meaning. (I also recommend learning about Controlling Ideas, a concept Robert McKee explores in his incredible book, Story.)
My list of goals grew and evolved as I wrote, because I would find new, stronger purpose as I drove toward the existing ones. I also began writing goals for each chapter. Inevitably, they became more specific, taking the form of discrete realizations and feelings I wanted readers to have. For example, a chapter with Nicole, the hitwoman, had this as one of its goals:
Give the reader a vivid understanding of what it would be like to think one thousand times faster.
Choosing Books to Read
Sometimes, when I’m browsing novels, I’m just looking for a fun or exciting story. But there are other times when I want more than that. I want a deeper experience from a great novel. The problem is, when I want a deeper experience, there is little indication of such promise when grabbing a book from the shelf. To get even a hint of a sense about it, I need to dive in and read for twenty minutes. But there are well over 300,000 books published every year in the US alone. That’s a lot of twenty-minute trials. To help, authors could share their goals just like they share a description of their novel. Non-fiction books do this all the time! For example, my favorite game design book, The Art of Game Design, says in its description: …this book gives the reader… one hundred sets of insightful questions to ask yourself that will help make your game better.
A Promise: The Author’s Statement of Purpose
Sharing your goals is like making a promise to the reader. “I promise that if you grant me your valuable time, I will change you in this way…” This promise can be made easily digestible by condensing your list of goals down into a summary sentence. I’m calling this the Author’s Statement of Purpose. For The Day Eight Series, it would be:
To explain The Singularity to non-sci-fi readers and to propose a theory of God, existence, and the origin of the universe, and to do this all in an exciting story.
My fear is that telling this to the reader outright may remove some of the meaning because they don’t have to do as much work to figure it out on their own. It dampens the great feelings surrounding epiphanies from the story. But the tradeoff is that you will get readers who wouldn’t have given your book a shot in the first place, and these readers are more likely to be in-tune with your writing.
So my proposal is this: authors should share their statement of purpose in a way that those who care can find it, but is otherwise hidden to those who don’t. A perfect spot would be under the “About the Author” section on a book’s rear flap.
I am considering adding this next time I update my novels and Amazon description.
I’m curious to hear what you think. Is this useful? Does it give too much away to the reader, or would they appreciate it?