Sunday, November 4, 2012

Writing with Focus

Writing with Focus

By Karen Cioffi

You have a wonderful idea for a story. Maybe it’s a mystery novel, a children’s middle grade story, or a picture book. You know what you want to say, or convey, and you start typing away. This is the beginning of every story.

But, we should backtrack a moment and go back to the idea. The idea: your protagonist has a problem or conflict, and you can see how each chapter or section will be worked out. You are sure you can bring your idea to full fruition, without the use of an outline. Okay, that’s fine. Many writers use the by-the-seat-of-your-pants writing method.

So, off your mind and fingers fly . . . creating something from nothing . . . well, not exactly from nothing, from an idea.

This, again, is the beginning. You type a draft of your story. How long this process will take depends on how long your manuscript will be, whether a novel, short story, children’s story, or other. Take note, though, even if your story is as short as a children’s picture book, you still need focus in your writing.

According to Merriam-Webster, focus is a “point of concentration” or “directed attention,” and this is what we need to have in our writing.

Writing with Focus

Focus is the path you're on that will take you from point A to point B. It’s the path from beginning to end that keeps the story together, with directed attention, and wraps it neatly up. An example might be an ice skater whose goal is to become good enough to get into the Olympics. His focus will be to train vigorously to accomplish his goal. Another example might be that of a school bus on its route to pick up children and bring them to school. The shop is where the bus begins, point A. It will end up at the school, point B. But, between point A and point B, the bus must deviate from the direct path in order to pick up each child. 

The same holds true for your story. There is a path or focus the story needs to follow to accomplish its goal. If you deviate too much from this path your story becomes diluted or weak. This is not to say you cannot have subplots, it means everything needs to be tied together moving forward on the same path toward the same end. It needs to be focused

Using an outline can often help with maintaining focus, even with a short story. An outline is kind of a writing GPS that guides you along the way, to a focused ending. It allows you to stray here and there with the comfort of knowing that you need to be at certain points throughout the manuscript. It’s a reminder to keep you focused. 

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  1. Karen, all of your posts here are gold! Thanks.

  2. I can never use an outline for a work of fiction. Before I begin "writing," the full plot is in my head like a movie. If I outline, the plot, the story line, becomes stilted and not "real." I have tried. I'm like Tony Hillerman said he was. He tried outlining and the outcome was terrible. He went back to writing and avoiding outlines, and his writing went back to its best-selling status.

    However, any nonfiction I write MUST have an outline.

  3. Thanks, Karen, for the great reminder to help stay focused. For me, it seems to depend on the story whether or not I outline. For novels, I usually write chapter summaries instead. It's a good way to see clear through to the end and helps to see if a chapter fits the story arc or is too unwieldy and long.

  4. Gee, sorry I'm so late to respond - hit by hurricane Sandy.

    Star Wizard, thank you!

    Vivian, I use the 'panster' with both fiction and nonfiction. Although, there is a sense of security with an outline, however rough.

    Suzanne, I agree that the story itself may dictate whether it needs an outline for better focus. My stories usually unravel themselves as they go along, but as I mentioned above, outlines do provide security, and guidance.