A few weeks ago I sat through a lengthy lecture with a number of anecdotes—and they were clever. But afterward I wondered why the woman told them. They seemed to have no direct relationship to the message or to us who listened.
I see this in writing as well. So here's my principle: Whenever we want to insert an illustration in nonfiction or a scene in a novel, we need to ask ourselves questions.
* Why am I including this? That is, what's my purpose?
* What will my readers learn from this story or scene?
* Why is this relevant to readers?
* If I left out this scene/illustration, would readers notice?
As we know, many people seem to tell stories just to tell them. But when we ask why people share (and listen to) stories, there is an objective. It may be to encourage or inspire or cause readers to think differently. But there is still purpose in the telling.
When we end the scene or the story, we need to reflect on what we wrote and answer at least two questions for ourselves:
* Why is this relevant?
* What’s the moral or point?