On Tuesday’s Author2Author with Thrity Umrigar, we found ourselves talking about The Intentional Arc, a term my wife coined and which I have since co-opted with impunity. The Intentional Arc is the third and most important arc in any story—the first being the Physical Arc (everything that happens), and the second being the Emotional Arc (how the characters change). Thrity spoke about the Intentional Arc as the moral center of the story. Being a literary writer and reader, she knew too well the temptation to lean on cleverness and verbal gymnastics to hold the reader’s interest. What could she offer her reader, she wanted to know, besides her own good writing?
A very good question. The answer is the Intentional Arc. The Intentional Arc is the reason the story was told. Why did you, a writer, think this story was worth sharing with another human being? Why have you committed so many hours to telling it? Why must it be told other than you must be paid and you must be reminded what a fine writer you are?
I ask myself this question every time I sit down to write, whether I am writing a book or one of these essays. I have found that I always begin from a place of forgetting. It is astounding, really, how thoroughly and quickly enmeshed I become in the dull and muddy business of my daily life. And so I must begin by reminding myself, lest I write from the same perch from which I made my grocery list or complained about congress. From here it seems I can see nothing but all the people in my way or with whom I disagree.
Which is why remembering why I am writing is such a lovely return. From here there are no arguments and no one is in my way—and not because I am alone. Rather, I have sought the friendliest place I know within me, and if I should find it, if only for a moment, I feel at once what I have always been a part of, instead of what I long to join.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.