Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Finding Focus for Your Fiction by Marie Wells Coutu

If you’re like me, this whole COVID-19 shutdown has made it hard to focus on writing.

Between the news, social media, and families at home, there is much to distract us from our BICHOK (bottom in chair, hands on keyboard) tasks.

But it occurs to me that focus is key to telling our stories. So let’s turn our F-O-C-U-S to writing a scene and use it to deepen our characters and strengthen our fiction.

F-Field of vision. When your character enters a room, you can describe the whole room down to the last detail—and bore your reader. Or you can show what in that room is most important to your character. What’s in your character’s “field of vision”? What your character notices first reveals something about her. Depending on what is going on in her head, the first thing she notices may be a piece of furniture, the color of the walls, or a particular person. It might even be something or someone missing from the setting that she expected to be there. Narrow the field of vision for your reader, emphasizing the things that will develop the character or advance the plot.

O-Orient. You’ll want to help the reader understand what’s happening by orienting the scene. Make sure the reader knows where the scene is taking place. For your own information, try what’s called “blocking” in theater. Know where your characters are in relation to each other and to important objects, and “block” your scene as you write to show how they interact with each other. And bring your reader along when they move.

Of course, you can’t spell out every movement (or you’ll have a million-word novel), but if you have a character getting out of his Ford Prius and in the next line, he’s talking to someone in the kitchen, your reader will get whiplash. Provide enough information so your reader is oriented to the setting and your scene makes sense.

C-Concerns. What gets mentioned gets noticed. Consider the well-known advice that if you show a gun in Act I, it should be used before the play (or book) ends. Use that sort of focus to help your readers understand what motivates your POV character. Show what interests him, what his concerns are, and what’s important to him.

U-Unify. Give unity to your story by choosing scenes and plot elements that reveal the theme in different ways. The TV show Bluebloods is an excellent example: in an hour-long episode, three (or more) members of the Reagan family will deal with a similar issue from various perspectives through three different plotlines. For example, in a 2006 episode called “Justice Delayed,” Jaime and Eddy discovered thousands in cash in a dead man’s apartment; Erin sought to prosecute a man accused of killing his wife; and Frank and Danny dealt with a man released after 20 years in jail for murder and his son who confessed to a recent murder. By the end, the issue is brought into focus during a discussion at the Sunday dinner table.

In this episode, the themes of justice, second chances, secrets, and truth all played a part, but Frank pointed out the overarching theme of grace. By showing different facets of a complex theme, you can unify your plot and your novel.

S-Sharpen. Using a (virtual) spotlight to emphasize what’s important will help to sharpen your scenes. Eliminate the extraneous and focus on aspects of the setting and characters that contribute to the overall effect of the story.

Pages and pages of description of the moors in Wuthering Heights may have set the mood for the story, but today’s readers will quickly lose interest. By turning the spotlight on key elements, you can achieve the desired mood and help your readers experience the story through the eyes and hearts of the characters.

Narrow the field of vision for your reader, emphasizing things that will develop the character or advance the plot. @mwcoutu @MaryAFelkins #writingtips

Marie Wells Coutu finds beauty in surprising places, like old houses, gnarly trees, and forgotten treasures. When she’s not writing about finding restoration and healing through God-designed journeys, she enjoys taking broken things and making them useful.
She is currently working on historical romance novels set in the 1930s. One manuscript won the 2019 Touched by Love Contest and the 2019 Sheila Contest, and a second novel also won in the Sheila Contest.
Her published novels are women’s contemporary fiction. Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. The Secret Heart, her newest release, and Thirsting for More, the second book in the series, were finalists in several contests.

You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook author page and her website, MarieWellsCoutu.com,
Follow her on Twitter @mwcoutu or on Amazon.