Today we talk about intent because intent shapes your project. What should the consumer have achieved by the time she gets to "The End"? Entertainment, education, edification, revelation--all these and more are the raw materials for your mold. Doesn't matter if you're keeping to a simple design or going Imhotep, intent guides your hand and intent guides your audience. So let's examine why the hell you decided to do what you did.
(1) Make 'em laugh. Let's be blunt: comedy ain't like nothin' if it ain't like fuckin'. Flirt, tease, stroke, climax, rest, smile, move on. If you'd like to make people laugh you need to acknowledge that comedy--like sex--is a participatory event. A sexual partner should feel from you that you're at temple; a comedic audience the same: let them inside you, and you in them. People love it when they're in on the joke with you. The anticipation of a laugh is a wonderful thing. Our best comedians are able to tell you what the punchline is even before they say it: there's a wicked twinkle to the eye, a perplexed raise of a brow, a deadpan reaction to an outlandish premise, maybe even they laugh at how ridiculous the punchline is to let you know they're riding sidesaddle with you. Your comedic fiction, then, should be less about "Look what I can do!" and more "nudge nudge, wink wink." Establish a mental rhythm of humor, non, humor, non, so readers stay primed and not exhausted. Your intent here is to let them savor the joy of laughter. That, my loves, is worthy as fuck.
(2) Edification. Humanity is a wonderful beast. Let's go deeper: Existence is a wonderful beast; it's grotesquely beautiful, beautifully grotesque, painful as fuck but giving zero fucks about that because it's the only game in town. Works that uplift us are rarely formulaic (note: unless Sandra Bullock's involvement is confirmed. Sandra Bullock gets everything a pass). Uplift doesn't mean happy fuzzy joyful orgasm. Think Beloved. Think The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Think Things Fall Apart or Deathbird Stories. What do these disparate works have in common? The truth. You, my loves, can handle the truth. I wrote a book called By All Our Violent Guides that has all manner of heinous things happen in it, but it's perhaps my most affirming book because when you get to the end of it you know that no matter what happens in life...you keep going. You don't give up. None of us can, will or do. Is impossible. Because whatever we are, whatever makes us us, is everlasting. It's been here before us, it'll be here after us. We're a community of a trillion pieces forming a single hope: that Truth go on. You can't actively lie to yourself writing this kind of book, and you can't hide either. Know that your reader is strong, smart, and compassionate, and use your words to help them chisel through to the other side. Be thou not afraid to write us into a good night.
(3) Entertainment. What's entertainment? Everything. That's entertainment. There's something for everybody and a body for every thing. Entertainment is all of the above, but think of it as having a high mark, not the lowest common denominator. What that mental height does is raise your work from the pure realm of "buy this" to the more participatory "try this." If your intent is merely to entertain (and, really, there's no such thing as merely entertaining since everything is meant to entertain; the definition of entertainment is not "eyes closed, mouth open") then think of the work as a Thanksgiving buffet. Not everything you've prepared is going to tickle all the buds on any single individual's tongue. There will be suck-ass cranberry sauce right next to sweet potato pie. The overall meal, though, will be satisfying. Why? Because you blended your spices, varied the tastes, and even stuck those weird booties on the turkey's feet. Before you embarked on this project you had a vision of us sitting back rubbing our bellies with smiles on our faces. How you got us there matters. We need to feel sated and cared for. In the immortal words of Bell Biv Devoe--and I'm pretty sure they were offering highly-regarded turkey cooking advice--"Smack it up, flip it, rub it down." Whatever your intention, make sure there is a part of us that wants to come back for more.
I've spoken bloggishly on this basic theme before. What is the gift built into the DNA of each particular piece of art that you present that only you can impart like a whisper in an ear? That's your intent. It's your compass on what will be an unpredictable journey of your own artistic discovery, because the mind never knows exactly where it wants to go when you give it a bit of gas. No matter how organized and diagrammed you are, it's not one of those programmable, driverless cars. It doesn't run on ability alone. It needs you. Your drive, your vision, your willingness to engage your readers in silent conversation. Think of it this way: Hell must have a helluva road crew to deal with all those good intentions. By the time you scrawl "The End" on your latest work, you, my friend, are ultimately the supervisor we report to.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY