editing, hemlock notations, how to edit, how to write, Samuel Eden, the editing process, the writing process, writing
Hey, all! So, today I want to talk about focus. Focus in your writing, of a scene or of a chapter.
For example, say your main character is a hard worker. In the first chapter or two you show a couple, three or four even, scenes where they work hard. Now, chapter three is here, we’ll say chapter three is twenty pages, ten pages are filled with the character working hard, and ten pages are filled with an interaction with a family member. This interaction is supposed to be meaningful, a bonding point.
Based on this info, what should the focus on chapter three be?
That’s a bit of a trick question. Sorry.
See the way chapter three is set up now equal focus is given to the scenes of the character working hard as the family interaction.
Roughly speaking, equal space, equal attention/importance.
Let’s add to the example. Let’s say when asked about the story, you say it’s about this person’s life, their family bonds and becoming an adult.
Okay. Got it?
So, what should the focus of chapter three be?
If you said on the family interaction and bonding, you’d be correct.
If you want the focus of the story to be on this character’s life, family, and maturation, then that should the focus. Giving equal space to scenes of mundane labor that the character does, then leaves behind with no problem, only takes focus (the readers’) and time (yours) from the family interaction.
This isn’t to say the character being a hard worker isn’t important, but it becomes characterization. Once you’ve shown us they’re a hard worker then it can be dropped to the background. Unless their work begins to slip later on, or something interesting happens with/during their work, then, please, show the readers that.
Another example for keeping focus (from my writing group), was a story that’s a quilt of several people’s lives. Each character got their own section. So, we got to (let’s say) “Claire’s” section. The author introduced “Claire”, then promptly introduced “Roger”, who we learned a lot about. Then the author introduced “Stan”, who we got a lot of information about. Then we met “Stephanie”, who was this nice girl with mean ambition. Then “Claire” came back, and the section ended.
When I read this section of the pages the author gave the group, I found it difficult to see why “Claire” was there. We got very little of her in her own section. I think what the author was going for was a sense of “Claire” feeling out of control in her life, feeling like a bit player. This can work, the author had a solid idea for it, but the execution of the section made “Claire” a bit player. It took the readers’ focus away from “Claire”. The other characters can come into “Claire’s” life/section and be larger than her, but the readers must always have a firm gaze on “Claire”; what she’s feeling, what she’s thinking, while these larger characters are horning in on her. However, at least in the draft I read, “Claire” seemed to fade to the background completely when these characters were on the page. Then when it came back fully to her, we didn’t get that much reflection from her, almost none, before the section was over.
My point: you have to keep the focus where you want the focus.
This may sound simple, but everyone, EVERYONE, struggles with this. It demands an awareness of your writing. An awareness that takes time to build up, to hone, and to keep. The thing that makes this awareness a slippery thing to hold on to, is that you’re you, writing your story. You have all the information in your head, something that’s obvious to you about the story/in the scene might not be obvious to someone else who’s reading the story.
An interesting exercise to try, is finding an older story of yours. Just read the title, maybe the first page, to remind yourself what the story was about. Then write down the point to the story, the focus, what you wanted to accomplish with the story. Now go put that off to the side, and go read the story. Does your story conform to what you wrote down? Where was it lacking? Were there any bits of information that weren’t in the story that needed to be there/or you thought were there?
There have been several stories of mine, where people have read them and been confused by something; and I’m like: “How can they be confused? It’s obvious why this is important!” Only to re-read the story and realize I never actually explain the important thing. It was all in my head why the important thing was important, but I never actually put it in the story. My bad.
Whenever I think about focus, I think about an old black-and-white Humphrey Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon. In the movie the Maltese Falcon has been stolen, it’s all over the news, which they show you. Bogart’s character is a private eye who is hired to find the Maltese Falcon. At some point, he’s attacked by people who want him to stop looking for the Maltese Falcon. He starts to have feelings for the woman who hired him to find the Maltese Falcon, and is ultimately betrayed by her because she wants the Maltese Falcon.
Can you guess what the focus of the movie is? Yes, there’s violence, there’s love and betrayal, there’s the underlying issues of trust and relationships, but these all happen, the characters all meet to participate in said acts, because the Maltese Falcon has been stolen.
So, that’s what I think about when I think about focus.
Until next time: Be aware of yourself, focus on yourself. Be aware of your writing, focus on your writing.