Fiction Writing: Focus On The Story

Focus On The Story

by e. lee caleca

I've often been asked why I write. I write for love and money. I want to be recognized for my talents, to put them to some edifying use and I need to make a living. I have done other things - like paint, design bags and sing - for a living but currently I am writing. Why would anyone want to read what I write when there are hundreds of thousands of writers doing the same thing? If I tried to answer that question I would probably never write another thing.

Sometimes my own particular concerns come into play. I might be melancholy or exuberant. I may have a nugget that I've been holding onto for some time and today is the day the muse has taken over. But regardless of when or what I plan to write, when it comes to writing fiction, I always focus on the story.

If there is a story waiting to unfold, let it. Don't try to figure your market and edit accordingly. You will stunt the growth of your piece. When you start your fiction writing, stop thinking about everything else that is going on in your life. Listen to the story as you unpack it instead of listening to yourself.

If you've been told to keep the audience in mind as you write, that is true. If you are writing a piece on the growth of planketon in the South Pacific, for example, you may need to keep in mind that your audience is made of grade five students not marine biologists. Or if you are writing about the composition of stars, your audience could be quantum physicists or those same fifth graders.
Keep vocabulary, sentence length and visualization in mind when giving descriptions. A twelve year old has a vastly different vocabulary than a six year old or a sixty year old, whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction.

Writing For The Story

When it comes to writing fiction, however, don't make the story conform to a particular audience and don't write for yourself. Write for the story. Become part of the plot you are unfolding. Walk the streets in your mind. Hear the rain. Is it pitter-patting melodicly on the sidewalk creating small rivulets of water which go dancing down the lane? Is it riding a howling wind, roaring its distaste for its own speed and capacity, running like a herd and creating a cavernous bulk in the heart of town?

I like to write in pen because I tend to get so involved in the story that I break pencil points with my ferocious intensity. I think this is what is known as 'being in the zone". I find that it may take a few paragraphs or a few pages to get there. It's the process of winding down from the thoughts in my head and winding up to the place I need to be - inside the story. Don't edit as you go. This is one of the quickest ways to break momentum. Just keep writing. There will be plenty of time to go back and edit out or in anything you may have missed. You will almost always need to do that anyway. Go back at a later date and flesh out some details, add more or take out what doesn't work.

Never use filler just to make the story longer. Good fiction needs to keep moving. A reader wants every bit in the story to mean something. If it doesn't add to the plot or move it along somehow, take it out. You may feel you need to give some background information. You likely do but telling the reader what the characters ate for breakfast, in detail, right down to grabbing a fork from the drainboard, is filler. If it is not integral to the story line, lose it.

Consider the following: Your protagonist enters her apartment after a scare in the parking garage by a strange man who approaches her and asks for her phone number. She refuses and he hangs around, watching her get into the elevator. She leans on the kitchen counter, a bit shaken then makes herself something to eat, thinking it will settle her.

Anna decided to have eggs and needed a fork so she grabbed one from the drainboard. She had just started eating when the phone began to ring and she jumped. She stared at the caller I.D. It read 'parking garage'. There was a phone in the parking garage for guests to call up to the tenants to allow them access to the building but she wasn't expecting anyone. The caller ended the call. A few seconds later, it rang again and a minute after that, there was a knock on her door. Anna froze, gripping the fork in her shaking hand, and stared at the door.

Will the fork become a weapon? Will she drop it and cause it to make some sort of noise allowing the intruder to know she is inside? Will her fingerprints be taken from it? Maybe the intruder is a simple thief and enters, head covered in a mask. She hides the fork in her pocket intending to use it as a weapon but is knocked unconscious, locked in a closet and she later uses the fork as a tool to get out. If this detail is not going to be an important piece of the plot puzzle, take it out.

Borrow Film Techniques

There are any number of scenarios your characters can get into as they go about their daily lives. Don't bore the reader and worse, don't cause the story to drag by adding content or filler which does not in some way move the plot.

As you allow the story to unfold, you may find it going in a direction you hadn't anticipated. If you have an ending in mind, it may be more difficult to guide and manipulate the story's direction but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Borrowing film techniques can help you. Movie scenes show physical action and movement. Try slowing the scene down in your mind, as if you are watching a movie in slow motion, then write as much detail as you can. Later, come back and edit leaving only the most vivid details.

Writing for the story doesn't mean the story will write itself. The pen will not guide your hand. It is work and it needs to be focused work. The focus is on the story not the audience, the agent's suggestions, the money, or the market. The fiction that comes from writing this way will be worth telling and will have a wider audience. Isn't that what all writers hope for?