Saturday, January 8, 2011

Focus

We learn so much when we read the work of other writers. I recently finished LOSING FAITH by Denise Jaden. This author taught me a valuable lesson about focus.


The main character, Brie, had one mission: to discover the truth about her sister Faith’s death. Every line of dialog and each scene focused on Brie’s goal. Jaden didn’t bore her readers with unnecessary descriptions or extra characters. *note to self*


Sometimes I get off track with my story, and have to remind myself to stay focused. In WRITING IT RIGHT, Sandy Asher reminds us to ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Whose story is this? Our main character should be clear and have a strong voice.
  2. What does the main character want? Our main character’s need or goal should be obvious. Is their goal worthy of the reader’s time?
  3. What’s standing in the character’s way? The obstacles should be evident and well-matched with our character.
  4. Does the main character drive the story forward?

Our first drafts might not be as focused as they should be, but hey, it can all be fixed, right?


Do you have any tricks for staying focused?


photo credit


29 comments:

  1. I wish I could say I have a magical trick for staying focused, but alas I do not. I think that often, that second read-through of a WIP is the one that has me scratching my head, really digging down and analyzing whether or not I've included what needs to be there and nothing extranneous. A challenge for sure. Good post.

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  2. Denise is my critique partner and a master at making every word and scene count. I've learned a lot about story structure from her.

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  3. This is an excellent book! I loved it! To keep focused I try my best to think like a first person writer even though I write in third person. It's helps me remember it's the main character's story and everything has to be from her point of view.

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  4. My trick for staying focused is reading my words as I wrote (I do it out loud!). That way I find my mistakes earlier on in the drafts. After waiting a month, I pull the finished copy out and do it all over again. :P

    Looks like a great book!

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  5. Beautiful example! Jaden's book was amazing, and that's a point that isn't often brought up, but very important.

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  6. I'm excited to add another great read to my list. Thank you for the suggestion. On my latest WIP, I'm keeping a separate "diary" that chronicles my MC's emotional development so I can see that arc away from the action beats of the story. It helps me make sure she is constantly moving forward in her growth.

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  7. I have the opposite challenge - I don't put enough into the first draft, especially in terms of description.

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  8. Thanks so much for citing Losing Faith as an example of clear focus, Julie. Wow. I'm honored. And it's something I continue to struggle with, so I'm not sure there's any real formula to it, but I love your list here!

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  9. Outlines help me stay focused. It's easy to get off track. I have to force myself to stick with it, but it will pay off in the end.

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  10. Hmm, very good questions. I think sometimes my plot drives my MC forward rather than vice versa, so I will have to whip out my magnifying glass and check that out. I do tend to outline in rough form, so that sorta keeps me in line. Mostly. LOL

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  11. This is something I just struggled with as I wrote my first novel (I'm revising it now). As I went along, I found other characters becoming more and more interesting, and I wanted to explore them. And yet I was writing in first person, which did keep me tethered pretty well to my MC. The trick is achieving a balance between letting the other stories live and breathe and seem real, while keeping them firmly in the background of the main story. Sometimes my characters go too far, and I have to rein them in. I don't have any good tricks for staying focused yet.

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  12. Those questions are very similar to the ones I ask myself before every draft to keep focused. They help me figure out where I need to cut-- or add-- to give the story the focus it needs. Thanks for sharing this insight-- it's a good reminder!

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  13. These are such good suggestions/reminders as I'm just getting started on a new project. I learned a great deal re: this issue on my last novel. I had to rewrite a great deal due to lack of focus on main character's #1 goal. Great post, Julie.

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  14. I definitely avoid unnecessary descriptions; actually, this isn't really my strong point and so I have tried a few screenplays for the very reason that you don't have to write much description. I get so bored with this--especially the physical description that doesn't do much if anything for the story. So part of my focus is to avoid this. Stay focused on exactly what you say above!!! Excellent.

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  15. Hmmm, don't know if I have any rec's for staying focused but I certainly do get unfocused a LOT!! I look forward to reading the ideas about staying focused on the task at hand.
    Thanks for the insight Julie...

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  16. Hi, Julie --

    Thank you so much for mentioning WRITING IT RIGHT on your blog. I'm delighted to know you've found it useful and appreciate your letting others know. I must share the credit, though, with the other authors who generously offered drafts of their published fiction to make the book work. I learned from each and every one of them!

    All good wishes,
    Sandy Asher

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  17. I need to work at this a bit - I like to wander. Thankfully we can edit!! :)

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  18. I always wanted to add all kinds back-story and explanations for everything so the reader would know what I meant by this and that....

    Writing in nano, though, I didn't use any descriptive language AT ALL. I wrote only the plot. There wasn't time to write anything else. Now, all I have to do is go back and add the necessary atmosphere, mood, etc., and it will be pretty tight.

    Nano taught me to focus only on what needed to happen to move the plot and characters forward. Perhaps I learned more than I thought...

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  19. I definitely need to work on my descriptions... these are great recommendations, thanks so much! :)

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  20. I liked your summary above of Asher's four points; especially, "Whose story is this?" I'm working on a rewrite of a middle grade novel right now, about two sisters, and found I really had to re-focus: I was telling the story through the wrong character's eyes. But I'm going to have to remind myself of all four points all through the book as I rewrite it. It's so easy for me to get sidetracked by the other characters.

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  21. I work from an outline to stay focused.


    There are minor characters and subplots, but I make sure they don't override the main character in any way. I used to go overboard with that years ago.

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  22. I work from an outline too, but I make sure I stayed focus in the revisions. Really looking at each scene. Not easy.

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  23. I love those four questions about character and focus. Thank you!!

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  24. That's a great example of staying focused. Trying to avoid things that you know are distracting and what things help you stay focused, such as soft music or complete silence, can help. And you're right, it can be fixed when you can focus!

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  25. Staying focussed is sometimes difficult: both while writing and moving the story forward. I tend to go overboard with details that I later delete. Outlining is a great way of staying focussed.

    Loved the points. Important questions to ask while writing. Thanks for sharing.

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  26. What a coincidence! I just finished this book last night. I agree, Denise did a great job of always pulling the reader forward through her quest to connect with the sister she lost and find the truth.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  27. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

    Obat Kulit Supaya Lebih Bersih Dan Sehat
    Obat Pilek Menahun
    Obat Alami Batu Empedu
    Obat Lupus
    Obat Ginjal Bocor
    Obat Infeksi Lambung
    Penyebab TBC Kelenjar
    Obat Gatal Bibir Vagina
    Cara Menghilangkan Infeksi Jantung
    Obat Penyakit Jantung

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