This post, by Janice Hardy, originally appeared on her The Other Side of the Story blog on 10/19/11.
First drafts are typically messy. We let our creativity guide us and the story goes where the story goes. It’s not uncommon for a first (or even second) draft to be a bit all over the place. Eventually we’ll get to a point where it’s time to tighten, not only the prose, but the narrative as well.
It’s time to look at your narrative focus.
Narrative focus is the theme or idea that ties a sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter, and book together. It’s what keeps the story flowing because everything is lining up like lovely little story roads. It helps keep the pace moving as events and details are building upon one another and making the reader feel like the story is going somewhere.
Like so many things in writing, narrative focus affects the macro and micro levels of your story.
Have you ever read a run-on sentence? Odds are it lost its focus. It’s trying to do too many things at once and you’re not really sure what the point of the sentence is. Or you’ll find a sentence that’s trying to cram something in that doesn’t really go with the rest of it.
Bob ran for the car, jumping over the barrel of firecrackers he still couldn’t light, trying to ignore Sally screaming that she’d never leave the keys in the ignition and he was looking in the wrong place.
Do you have any idea what this sentence is trying to say? What’s important here? Going for the car, lighting the barrel of firecrackers, or the keys in the ignition.
Try keeping the focus of each topic together.
Bob ran for the car, ignoring Sally’s screams that she’d never leave the keys in the ignition. He jumped over the barrel of firecrackers he still couldn’t light.
Better, but there’s still trouble here, because what do firecrackers have to do with going for keys? This kind of narrative wobble is common when you’re trying to slip in details and aren’t sure how they fit. This can lead to unfocused paragraphs.
Remember English class? One topic per paragraph? That still holds true in writing.