A Focus Writer
Is your story developed with specific details that are related to the main event? Do all of the details move the story along? Does your story have enough elaboration so that your reader can see and feel what is happening?
Focus is the Feature of Effective Writing that answers the question “Who, What, When, Where, and How?” An effective piece of writing establishes a single focus and sustains that focus throughout the piece. Just as a photographer needs to focus on a particular subject to produce a clear picture, a writer needs to focus on a single topic or main idea in order to produce an effective piece of writing. But finding a focus means more than just knowing what to photograph or write about. Good photographers also think about what they want their photographs to communicate. This affects their decisions about how to frame their subject in the shot, and whether to zoom in for a close-up or zoom out for a wide-angle shot. Similarly, writers must think about what their topic should communicate. For a newspaper reporter, for example, finding a focus for a story means finding an “angle,” a perspective from which to tell the story.
Focus, therefore, involves more than just knowing what your story is about, but understanding why you are writing it in the first place. Without a clear focus, students’ stories, reports, and essays degenerate into lists of loosely related events or facts with no central idea to hold them together, leaving the reader to ask “So what?” By establishing a clear focus before they start to write, students can craft their writing into a coherent, unified whole. Finding a focus helps students find the significance in their stories, the message that they want to convey to their audience and their reason for writing.
Establishing a clear focus also helps readers understand the point of the piece of writing. Readers don’t want to read a textbook as a novel as unrelated ideas; they read to learn something new, to be surprised, to gain a new insight on an old idea, to view something from a new perspective or angle.
Focus is also the critical feature that drives all the other features. Focus determines what choices the writer makes about everything from organizational structure to elaborative details to word choice, sentence length, and punctuation. At the same time, effective writers take advantage of the appropriate supporting features to strengthen the focus of their writing.
A critical factor in establishing a focus is setting a goal. Research is positioning yourself for important elements of your manuscript. Readers want to be engaged in “what’s next?” Research also improves the quality of the text.
Critical to establishing a focus is knowing your audience. Who will read your work-of-art and why? What will readers know or expect when they sit down and become captivated? Writing becomes a “knowledge-transforming” process that not only improves the quality of your writing, but also moves you toward greater understanding of your story.
Remember to be able to envision a range of possible roles, your audience, and your story. This ability to envision multiple possibilities requires exposure to a wide range of genres by a wide range of authors. Expressive writing, such as journal writing, personal experience narratives, and other forms of exploratory writing, is to explore and experiment with different perspectives that will help you find that focus and guiding questions for the focus.
Organization is the structural framework for that writing. Organization is important to effective writing because it provides readers with a framework to help them fulfill their expectations for the story. A well-organized piece of writing supports readers by making it easy for them to follow, while a poorly organized piece leads readers through a maze of confusion and confounded or unmet expectations.
Organization, simply put, is the logical progression and completeness of ideas in a story.
Where to begin hooking your reader is a crucial decision for a writer. Just as a good beginning can draw a reader into story, a not so very good beginning can cause a reader to loose interest from reading further. The beginning, also called the lead or the hook, brings the luster of the reader to the purpose of the writer by introducing characters or setting or the topic. A good beginning also sets up expectations for the motivation, the objective and purpose—this set the mood of your story. A technique to practice is dialogue, flashback, description, inner thoughts, and jumping right into the action.
What’s In The Middle?
The organization of the middle of your story depends on the genre. It’s like writing a letter. You start with a heading, the middle is the message and the ending is the salutation. Identify five basic organizational building techniques: sequence, description, cause and effect, compare and contrast, problem and solution.
Sequence uses time, numerical, or spatial order as the organizing structure. Some narrative genres that use a chronological sequence structure are personal narratives (memoirs, autobiographies), imaginative stories (fairytales, folktales, fantasy, science fiction), and realistic fictions. Narrative story structures include an initiating event, complicating actions that build to a high point, and a resolution. Use timelines to organize biographies, oral histories, and recounts of current and historical events.
Description is used to describe the characteristic features and events of a specific subject (”My Girl”) or a general category (”Girls”).
Critical to establishing a focus is knowing your audience. Who will read your story and why? What will readers know or expect when they sit down to read your story, Remember to use descriptive words to introduce your characters.
Cause and Effect structure is used to show causal relationships between events. Cause and effect structures organize more sophisticated narratives as writers become more in-depth at showing the relationship between events. Cause and effect structure gives reasons to support your opinions by using creative words. Signal words for cause and effect structures also include if and then, as a result, and therefore.
Comparison and Contrast structure is used to explain how two or more objects, events, or positions in an argument are similar or different, using words such as same and different to compare things. Other words used to signal comparison and contrast organizational structures include alike, in contrast, similarities, differences, and on the other hand.
Problem and Solution requires writers to state a problem and come up with a solution. Although problem/solution structures are typically found in informational writing, realistic fiction also often uses a problem/solution structure that writers learn to identify.
Endings “Happily Ever After”
Let’s talk about ‘The End’.
How will your story end? Anyone who has watched a great movie for ninety minutes only to have it limp to the finish with weak endings knows that strong endings are just as critical to effective writing as strong beginnings. And anyone who has watched the director’s cut of a movie with all the alternate endings knows that even great directors may or may not come up with satisfying endings for their movies. That’s an option. Just like directors, writers have to decide how to wrap up the action in their stories, resolving the conflict and tying up loose ends in a way that will leave their audience satisfied. Writers struggle with writing strong endings, “I had a lot of fun” to sum things up, or “It was just a dream” ending to their stories. I rather like “It was just a dream”.
The type of ending an author chooses depends on his or her purpose. When the purpose is to entertain, endings may be happy or tragic, or a surprise ending may provide a twist. Endings can be circular, looping back to the beginning so readers end where they began, or they can leave the reader hanging, wishing for more. Endings can be deliberately ambiguous or ironic, designed to make the reader think, or they can explicitly state the moral of the story, telling the reader what to think. Strong endings for expository texts can summarize the highlights, restate the main points, or end with a final striking remark to drive home the main point to the audience.
If narrative and expository structures are the framework, cohesive elements such as transition words are the glue that holds these structural elements together. Transition words show the relationship between different sentences and ideas. Poor writers tend to loosely connect their sentences with and then. Good writers use transition words that show causal and logical relationships between words, sentences and paragraphs, such as because and after.
There are six categories of transition words:
1 Spatial order. Words used in descriptive writing to signal spatial relationships, such as above, below, beside, nearby, beyond, inside, and outside.
2 Time order. Words used in writing narratives, and instructions to signal chronological sequence, such as before, after, first, next, then, when, finally, while, as, during, earlier, later, and meanwhile.
3 Numerical order. Words used in expository writing to signal order of importance, such as first, second, also, finally, in addition, equally important, and more or less importantly.
4 Cause/effect order. Words used in expository writing to signal causal relationships, such as because, since, for, so, as a result, consequently, thus, and hence.
5 Comparison/contrast order. Words used in expository writing to signal similarities and differences, such as (for similarities) also, additionally, just as, as if, as though, like, and similarly; and (for differences) but, yet, only, although, whereas, in contrast, conversely, however, on the other hand, rather, instead, in spite of, and nevertheless.
6 General/specific order. Words used in descriptive reports and arguments to signal more specific elaboration of an idea, such as for example, such as, like, namely, for instance, that is, in fact, in other words, and indeed.
Good writers use concrete, specific details, and relevant information to construct mental images for their readers. Without this attention to detail, readers struggle to picture what the writer is talking about, and will often give up altogether.
Two important concepts in support and elaboration are sufficiency and relatedness.
Sufficiency refers to the amount of detail — is there enough detail to support the topic? Any parent who has asked his or her child what happened at school knows how hard it is to get a child to elaborate on a subject. Teachers have a similar problem getting their students to elaborate when they write. Good writers supply their readers with sufficient details to comprehend what they have written. In narrative writing, this means providing enough descriptive details for the reader to construct a picture of the story in their mind. In expository writing, this means not only finding enough information to support your purpose, whether it is to inform or persuade your audience, but also finding information that is credible and accurate.
Sufficiency, however, is not enough. The power of your information is determined less by the quantity of details than by their quality.
Relatedness refers to the quality of the details and their relevance to the topic. Good writers select only the details that will support their focus, deleting irrelevant information. In narrative writing, details should be included only if they are concrete, specific details that contribute to, rather than detract from, the picture provided by the narrative. In expository writing, information should be included only if it is relevant to the writer’s goal and strengthens rather than weakens the writer’s ability to meet that goal. Delete irrelevant details that weaken the writing try to make details more specific and concrete.
Remember, ‘Keep Writing’.
THINK LIKE A READER AND BECOME THE WRITER
Purchase The Self-Help Guide For The Enthusiastic Writer, by Paula Perry.