Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Focus: An Important Element of Storytelling


Books by Julie Eberhart Painter.

Focus: An Important Element of Storytelling

By Julie Eberhart Painter

Of all the skills I've learned in this last quarter of century’s worth of concentrated writing, it's that three elements are key to a successful piece of writing: point of view, story and focus.
POV is a learned skill. There are many articles around to guide writers through that tunnel. And story tells itself providing we stay true to it and the POV characters living it. The easiest way to accomplish this is to put the POV camera on the shoulder of the character with the most to lose and let that character see and react to the story unfolding.

A Slippery Issue...

Focus is a slippery issue, easily lost when we are distracted by a cute joke or a sidebar kind of addendum. The “let's include this,” mindset will not get a story past the first editor. I find flash fiction, a good place to put those distracting asides.
But truly focusing, “Now there’s the rub.” With focus the writer must stay on point. Characters must speak as themselves, act in their own style and have a clear voice—so clear that very few dialogue tags are needed. The characters must dress and look like the person the writer is portraying. (No tart clothes on a nun.)
Some bit players will not be thoroughly described. The days of a person entering the room, followed by a full bio and inventory of their appearance are gone. Minimalism is in. Get to the point. Elmore Leonard says he leaves out the parts people skip over. That might be extreme, but it's a good measuring stick to apply when you get verbiage in your wordage.
When choosing a way to tell any story, it must come from the most visceral place, the heart of the character. 

Characters...

Focus on how this character is acting and what part of the back story must be included. For instance might he have just gotten out of jail? Is she not wearing a wedding ring but obviously expecting? There might be a physical disability that can only be caused by the back story itself.
How we chose to tell the story means everything. Over all, whose story is it? That will determine the point of view and focus; and what method are you going to use to bring this story from your inner being to haunt your readers.
If all else fails, keep your focus by taking that distracting little gem you're just dying to use and make it the focus of a short-short or flash fiction story.

Application...

Applying the disciplined pen to the focus of your piece will get your readers laughing in the right places and crying as you might have when you first wrote the scene. Weed out the extraneous details cluttering the point of the story. And, never forget writer Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried saying, “When you come to the end stop!”

Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, Tangled Web, and CTRR award-winning Kill Fee, also recipient of Champagne’s Best Book for 2011 Award. Web site at www.books-jepainter.com Check out http://bewilderingstories.com to read Julie's latest flash fiction stories and articles and stories in Cocktails, Fiction and Gossip Magazine, an online slick.