How does a writer select or set the central purpose of his writing before he starts to develop the characters, plot and story.
I am learning how to write fiction and I don't know if the central purpose, plot, characters, view point and so forth are determined by evaluation after the author has written the story or are set before writing begins. As a unversity professor I am experienced in technical writing, but confused as to how to best approach fiction writing.
This is tricky, because sometimes you will have a purpose before you create your characters, but sometimes, your characters will dictate your purpose. One helpful technique that I have used and teach my students to use, is creating a specific character and giving that character some concrete objects as part of his or her essence. For instance, say you are really not sure how to approach a new story, but you want to play around with different characters and see what comes up. You can create two characters that have specific identities and have them converse and see where it takes you.
Say you choose to create a male and a female. Give them names, height, weight, age, professions, likes, dislikes, and a few objects that are specific to each of them. Maybe one has a pet. Maybe one wears bifocals. Maybe one smokes cigars. You can have fun playing around with this, and it will loosen you up to be open to new ideas.
There's no "right" way to approach writing fiction. You can even use your technical writing skills to help you be more precise or explain details. Sometimes, when you create a character, he/she takes on a life of his/her own and, before you are aware of it, you are in his/her story.
In fact, it may happen that what you begin with turns into something entirely different than what you had originally planned to write. Don't get too attached to it, and let if proceed for a while, and remember, we often have to write a lot of words to get to where we are going.
In my mind, I would think that the purpose of creative writing and the development of its elements begin in a preliminary form before the writing process has fully emerged. There is some type of inspiration or some type of exploration that allows a sketch of these elements to become clear. Perhaps, something in nature or something in experience has started the writing process, ignited the spark. In the course of the kindling of this spark into a flame, I sense that the elements and their refinement become more clear. Naturally, each writer has their own set of skills in their writing. I am sure that some lay everything out before composition while others do nothing until composition starts, letting the elements "breathe" and absorb the canvass of the work. I am also sure there are hybrids. In teaching writing, I would think that being able to encourage students to find their voice, their creative zeitgeist in the composition of work would be one of the most essential elements from which the analysis of how elements are formed can take place in a relevant context.
I would suggest in response to your question that important aspects of fiction such as "theme" and "message" do not just magically appear in the story - the author must at least have some awareness of these aspects before writing the story, as if you think about it, decisions about the plot, characters and view point are all going to be made based on how to advance the theme or message of your fiction. Therefore, this implies that the "central purpose" of the writing must be clearly defined at the very beginning, as everything else acts as vehicles to advance this central purpose and communicate the ideas and message of the author that they are trying to communicate through their work.