Thursday, June 04, 2009


What is the Focus of Your Story?

I recently edited a picture book for one of my Editor 911 clients. Although the story was a great idea, it was all over the place. I actually found three stories in one, and that is way too many for a picture book. It might be okay for a novel but not for a shorter work.

I see this as a problem in many people's manuscripts for adults and children. With longer works, this out-of-focus problem usually rears its ugly head as the subplots take over the main plot of the story and confuse the reader. If you are suffering from writers' block, don't know where your story is going, or your critique group members say they are confused while reading your story, maybe you have lost focus on what your book is actually about.

With my client, I told her what I thought the three different plots were in her book, and I asked her which one is the most important to the story she is trying to tell. Once she figures that out, she can write a better book for kids. The other two stories do not have to disappear. In children's books, the illustrator can help with subplots, or the author can write another book--maybe a sequel.

Here is what you can ask yourself if you feel your story is losing focus. This should work on any story--long or short, for kids or adults.

  • When I first had the idea for my story, what was my original idea?
  • Why did I want to tell this story?
  • What are the plots and subplots I have in my story?
  • What is my story's theme?
  • What is my story's purpose?
  • Is there any scene in my story that does not fit with my answers to the above questions? (You know those scenes that you think are brilliant, but readers are wondering why they are in your story? Don't delete them--save them for a rainy day.)

If you do a little story soul-searching, then you should be able to find your focus again. If you are still having trouble, ask your critique group members if they will answer the questions above about your story and see what they think. Their answers will be based on the actual manuscript you have written. Sometimes, your answers are based on the manuscript on your paper AND the manuscript in your head--as writers, we know these are not always the same thing. Take a day or two to get your story back in focus. It will make finishing your manuscript easier and more enjoyable.

Happy focusing!

Margo Dill

Read These Books and Use Them (blog): For teachers, parents, and children's book lovers.

photo by Capture Queen

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Writing Lively Copy

by LuAnn Schindler

Want to turn a bland piece of prose into a piece that's filled with life? Substituting similes and metaphors for adjectives, replacing generic nouns with specifics, and varying sentence length will result in lively writing. Try this exercise to spice up your words.

Write a long paragraph about eating a favorite piece of fruit, using all five senses. Make sure you write a simile and a metaphor in the paragraph. Just for review, a simile compares two objects and uses 'like' or 'as' to make the comparison. Example: "The blackberries in the bowl were lumpy, like dirt clods on a dusty road." Metaphors directly compare one item to another. Example: "The clumps were soft and squishy, melting into sweetness in my mouth."

After you've finished writing the paragraph, review what you've written. Replace generic nouns with a specific noun. Instead of writing 'a conglomeration of berries', be specific. Red raspberries, blueberries, and gooseberries. When you use a specific noun, it is easier for the reader to visualize what you mean. The generic word or phrase leaves a lot to the reader's imagination, which can sometimes lead them in a different direction.

Review your work once again and consider sentence structure. Are all sentences one length? Do you always start with a phrase? Adjust and vary the length of your sentences, because variety helps keep the reader engaged.

Not only is this exercise good for developing lively copy, but it is also an effective revision tool.

Labels: , , , ,