Friday, July 10, 2009

Chapter Focus

Shall we chat about the importance of focus when writing chapters? I’ll assume you said yes.

Let me begin by saying that ever so selfishly, I love reviewing the work of other writers because it helps me to pinpoint issues in my own writing. For example, the other night I was reviewing a beautifully written story that I was really enjoying. However, after finishing a chapter, something didn’t feel quite right. Unfortunately, this was a familiar discomfort. Because I’d been having the same sense of ick after rereading a couple chapters that I’d rewritten in my own novel. The problem had to do with focus. The chapter I reviewed and those I had rewritten that day were not on track.

When I am writing a first draft of anything (even for a revision), I let my hair down and go with the flow. This is wild, crazy, big fun writing. Fine for a while, but sooner rather than later it’s time to grow up and get serious. Meaning, get focused. The hair gets pulled back and wrapped in an elastic and the work begins. When dealing with chapters, each and every one must be it’s own complete unit, right? The way every paragraph and sentence needs to stand on its own. Sure, they all need to be part of the greater whole, but each chapter needs to have a beginning, middle and end with some resolution. Otherwise, the focus gets fuzzy. I hate fuzzy unless it applies to baby animals. So it’s pure frustration for me to read my writing, already splattered with blood, sweat and tears, and realize that the intent is (gasp) blurry.

What to do when this happens? No, Windex is not the answer. Hacking is the answer. No matter how stellar the writing, if it does not further the forward thrust of the plot progression, I cut, chop, slice, dice. I rework and trim until the writing is focused.

What are your thoughts? As for me, I’m off to sharpen my knives and pull back my hair. I’ve got a couple more chapters that need my attention.


  1. What a great post. I'd tend to agree...reading really helps me 'see' my writing. Great books offer inspiration and books that don't work as well for me offer instruction. I'f I ever feel stuck in my writing, reading usually gets the creative juices flowing again :)

  2. Yes, I agree with Tess. Reading will increase the enthusiasm for your own work-in-progress because not only are you enjoying a great story, you're also LEARNING about what makes a great story. And vice versa. If the story's not so great, then you get a good picture of what doesn't work.

    Right now I'm reading Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon which is not really in the genre I'm currently writing (middle grade historical), but I am completely enthralled in the story. The author makes you feel as if you are really there inside the story; her details of food, clothing, and landscape/setting are just that vivid.

  3. Yes! So true! I always keep reading material nearby when I'm writing. Reading refuels me, kicks me into high gear when needed, or simply inspires me when I start to drag. I love that I have something I can rely on other than a latte to restart my engine or give it a tune up.

    Crystal, I've got SILVER PHOENIX on my "must read" list. Now I REALLY want to read it!!! Enjoy : )