currently playing on my iPod: Ho Hey by the Lumineers
In THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, Noah Lukeman discusses focus in writing. This is one of my biggies. I am not alone. Writers love to, well, write. We oftentimes get all long-winded in our scenes, traipsing off into scenery details, histories, and *gasp* characters that shouldn’t even appear in the manuscript.
A setting must be clear in your reader’s mind, but you need not give every minute detail of the room where your MC meets his LI. The reader doesn’t need the type of couch, the color of the carpet, the curve of the wall, the sound of the neighbors’ drum set, and the smells of everything and everyone. Be picky. Focus. Choose one corner, where the characters sit. Or mention only the odd bits like the drums and the curving wall. Regardless of what you choose, stick to your decision and don’t blabber on and on outside your chosen focus. It will negatively affect your pacing.
If you’re going to trickle character histories into your story, only include those events that are immediately (or pretty close to it) necessary. Don’t give your reader the life story. Memoirs are a tough sell. Especially if the reader is expecting fast-paced fiction. Include just enough of your characters’ pasts so that your reader will feel sympathetic toward them or understand their motivation.
Focus must also rule in bigger decisions. Do you need that girl who brought your MC to her first class at There’ssomethingfunnygoingonhere High School? Or should you chuck that chick and weave her part into a more important minor character’s role? Remember to step back from your manuscript and recall why you are writing your story. Are all the mentioned characters important? Why? Do you tie their stories up nicely by the end? You can’t leave anyone hanging. Readers will feel unsatisfied and neglected.
But be warned! I thought a character in my current manuscript was superfluous. It turned out that he was pivotal–I just hadn’t realized it myself until two of my critique partners wanted me to give him a pink slip and I fought for him. He existed as the opposite of my MC’s Love Interest, a quiet anti-foil (go with it, people) to the awesomeness of my male lead. Once I put him in his proper spot and focused on his function in the tale, he helped my male lead shine.
Go back and check your manuscript for focus in the basic technical sense considering descriptive scenes and histories. Also get a wider view. Do you need everyone currently running around in that big ole masterpiece? Focus on your theme. Your outline. Your purpose. Good luck!