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Is it true that every good writing fulfils one main purpose, or do some good writings fulfil multiple main purposes? And do some good writings communicate numerous themes unrelated to one another? Since the purpose of writing is to communicate, (although in rhetoric, the main purpose could be to persuade, to prove, to move, etc.), can writing be good, communicating multiple unrelated themes? And is the purpose of writing only to communicate, or can it also be to please the reader by delighting their ear or stimulating the reader's intellect through its level of diction?

What I said in another question was this: For the sake of the reader's own pleasure, understanding, and emotional well-being, and other like things pertaining to their heart and mind, what kind of style should be used, in consideration of the intended reader or readers? This pertains to the purpose of style. But this question I'm asking now pertains to the purpose of writing in general.

I've been reading books on writing and asking these questions because I'd given little attendance to these matters when I was younger, and because perfectionism and lack of self-discipline has hindered me from advancing my skills and knowledge of various things in which I am interested. I am also asking them to make the answers easier to find for others.

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  • This is all very "classical", however modern fiction bestsellers will above everything else give the reader an emotional experience of something beyond their everyday experience (more romantic, more fun, more dangerous, more horrible; all depending on genre). But I guess you could communicate emotion... though that's not always the way to do it. It's not about showing emotion, it's about creating emotion in the reader.
    – Erk
    Feb 25 at 2:55
  • No; not true, first because you meant not 'every good…' but either 'all good…' or 'every piece of good…' but hey! That's about English, not any theory of writing. Much - perhaps most - good writing fulfils multiple purposes though usually, only one is 'main'. How is pleasing the reader not 'communication'? Mar 2 at 21:32

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Personally, I will subscribe to the advertisement writer's mantra: If you emphasize everything, you've emphasized nothing.

Good writing fulfills one main purpose at a time.

If your story is at a point where you are describing a battle, describe the battle, do not engage in philosophy, or love musings, or the meaning of life or meaning of death. Describe strategy, engagement, setback, strikes, injuries, surprises, mistakes, and triumphs. Focus on the battle.

Now, in a few scenes, like a sword fight, people may be having a conversation while they fight. But the conversation is a mirror of the fight, thrust and parry, points are made, and defended with counter-points, well or poorly. And the conversation and the sword fight are highly correlated -- a surprise in the conversation matches a surprise by the same person in the fight. A point that cannot be answered well is followed by a defensive setback. The person winning the verbal sparring is winning the physical sparring; the conversation and the sword fight are the same thing.

A book can cover more than one theme or idea, but a scene must have purpose. Metaphorically the scene is a part in a larger machine, and has one purpose. Other parts (scenes) can have other purposes.

Scenes can advance themes, or the main plot, or sub-plots, or the embedded romance, or show elements of the villain's treachery, or the traitor's subterfuge that will all become clear in the end when the traitor is exposed.

No, I don't think the purpose of writing is to "please the reader by delighting their ear or stimulating their intellect through its level of diction."

Good writing is clear, this sort of pretentiousness is for poetry, where people pay attention to such things. Good writing is practically invisible and doesn't call attention to itself.

Because calling attention to itself breaks the immersion of the story, and that is the cardinal sin of writing fiction. Mel Brooks was a master of breaking immersion for comedic effect (e.g. "Blazing Saddles"), but he's a one in a million master. In good fiction, readers are immersed, and nearly forget they are reading, because their imagination is so thoroughly engaged they are seeing a movie in their mind.

Weird words, weird sentence structure, weird allusions or references they don't get, all break their immersion, they realize they are reading and are forced to engage their rational mind to figure this crap out. (For many of us, the same thing can happen with just a typo or weird punctuation.)

The moment you break immersion, you have ruined the reading experience for a moment, and if you persist in that exercise, to satisfy your own ego, you will lose the reader.

And if that reader is an agent, or a publisher, or a professional reader of scripts or books, kiss goodbye your chances of getting published at all.

Perfectionism can help you, in proofreading. It can help you in plotting and ensuring there are no plot holes. It can help you in rewrite; I have re-written some critical turning point scenes, to make them perfect, over 20 times (I lost count) before I finally could find nothing wrong with them.

But you must understand the ultimate purpose of writing fiction is sustained long term reader immersion. I have accidentally missed an entire night of sleep because I just could not stop turning the pages of a book. That is good writing. That is what I aim for. That is "perfection".

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  • What about other kinds of writing? Do they all require this sustaining of immersion? And what about authorial voice?
    – garbia
    Feb 24 at 22:55
  • @garbia Authorial voice is mostly contained in the length and pattern of sentences, and a few words or viewpoints. Other kinds of writing are best kept simple as well; I write scientific papers, for example, and I use as simple language as possible, although there is jargon in various fields that all the likely readers will understand. It is best to never use words that even 20% of readers would not recognize immediately. All writing, except for poetry, or accurate historical works, should strive for clarity. Yes, even in academic work, the goal should be immersion and clarity. Nothing else.
    – Amadeus
    Feb 24 at 23:05
  • Okay. Thank you. I think I should change the way I write, so that from now on I immerse the reader and communicate with them clearly. However, I'm worried that I'll fail to do so consistently. Does language that flows in sound and thought help to immerse the reader? And can I still use a lyrical prose style, as long as it is clear and immerses the reader?
    – garbia
    Feb 24 at 23:19
  • Do readers care about the way a piece of writing sounds, as long as it flows?
    – garbia
    Feb 24 at 23:27
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    @garbia, you should definitely read your text aloud. It will likely alert you to problems with flow, repetitions, etc. If you use an expensive AI voice, I guess you could use it as well. Read aloud to a listener or audience is also a sure fire way to find things you don't really trust in your writing, or do it to an imagined listener...
    – Erk
    Feb 25 at 2:58
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The Purpose of Writing is to make Yourself Happy

Writing is Art. Art exists to please the Artist. So if writing formulaic tripe makes you happy, write formulaic tripe.

Publishing is a Different Story

Now, if you want to share your Art with others, then different Purposes come into play. I would argue that modern readers want focused, purposeful writing, so you really only should have one True Purpose for a given work.

An academic article is explicitly about making an argument; the current understanding of a topic is incomplete, and the author's work improves it. Everything else is secondary to the Purpose of convincing the reader of this fact.

Fiction is generally about the main character's arc. This character should change over the course of the story, and making the reader believe in and emotionally resonate with that growth is the Purpose of the work. Everything else is secondary.

In academic work, the author keeps their voice neutral and dispassionate, as that is generally accepted as the best way to convince an academic audience in a logical manner. In fiction, the author often adopts a voice that fits with their intended character arc, whether ironic, or earnest, or neutral, they make an artistic choice that aids their Purpose of having the reader resonate with the character's growth.

For "professional" writing, everything should directly support the main Purpose of your work.

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