The Journal: Another Brief Note on Focusing Down

In today’s Journal

* Another Brief Note on Focusing Down
* The Novel
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Topic: Another Brief Note on Focusing Down

Okay, and some story ideas, and a bit on dialogue.

Focusing down means making readers lean into the story, or lean into it more closely. It means focusing their attention “down” or more tightly on a detail. You can’t do that with a chase scene.

But you can do that with the tires squealing and a wheel cover spinning off and clanging down the side of the road. If it sends people scattering when it bounces off a curb and goes through the plate-glass window of a café, so much the better.

(There you go. Several story ideas right there. The story of the POV character in the fleeing car or the chasing car, or the story of the POV character sitting down to enjoy lunch in a café with whomever. Or the story of the POV character waiting the table when s/he looks up to see… or the story of the cook who leans out through the pass-through at the crucial moment to yell to a waiter that an order’s ready when the wheel cover crashes through the window and….)

You can do it with the perp’s hands slipping off the steering wheel at a crucial moment because his idiot brother put Armor All on the steering wheel. (He saw his brother doing so yesterday afternoon but failed to say anything because someone stepped out on the porch of the house and called to him at that crucial moment and….)

Or maybe the perp’s car takes out a wood or steel or aluminum light pole, hitting it just below the little square ID plate because his hands slipped. And who knows? Maybe the story’s about the perp, or maybe it’s really the story of the guy who’s half-drunk when he’s called out to repair the downed power lines or the light pole.

Or if you’re bent that way, maybe it’s the story of the drunk on the corner in a disheveled suit (the jacket is ripped down the center of the back) who witnessed the whole thing and is a retired (or fired) old beat-cop or detective whose bloodshot eyes go wide when he realizes maybe, just maybe, he can use this as a vehicle to rebuild his career.

Or the ski-masked guy in pink trousers, a sage-green sweater and white flip-flops with dirty sides who just robbed the Circle K on the corner and gets in the way of the fleeing car.

Or maybe it’s the story of the clerk in the Circle K, who has brown hair and eyes and is honest to a fault and who’s just been robbed and is wondering whether he’ll be fired, and he really needs the income from the job to help fund his college education at CUNY or CalTech or Ohio State. Need I go on?

You can do it with the perp’s inability to accelerate at the right moment because he’s wearing thong leather sandals and the one on his right foot comes loose and goes sideways on him. (He was going to wear sneakers but couldn’t find them when he got dressed in the dark this morning in his town, which is 123 miles away.)

The points are 1) ideas are a dime a million and 2) you can add that detail or those details all without slowing the action. (How quickly did you read through the stuff above this paragraph?)

Yes, it’s a little slower to write (so Take Your Time), but for the reader, the sense of action is just as fast if not faster because more is crammed into the reader’s brain. And all at breakneck pace.

Dialogue—good dialogue—also is a kind of focusing down. Good dialogue always makes the reader lean in. It even turns the otherwise well-grounded reader into a character in the story. The reader becomes the eavesdropper, just off scene, listening closely as the characters talk to each other.

And what is good dialogue? Dialogue that is real. Not dialogue that “seems” real, dialogue that “is” real: dialogue that comes directly from your characters.

Much has been said about differentiating your characters through their dialogue, what they say and how they say it.

The characters in my current novel (and many others) live in the west. Some are less refined. Some are more refined (for the area). One is highly refined-sounding, a result of his having been reared in the deep south. Of course, many of my characters live in a ship or on a planet in deep space. Some live in Brooklyn. Some live in Ohio or other places.

Some truncate their gerunds (“lyin'” instead of “lying”) and some don’t. Some begin almost every sentence with an identifying catch phrase: “Well” or “The thing is” or “There y’go” or “There you go” or “Whaddya mean?” Some who truncate their gerunds and other words (“y’go”)are smarter or wiser than those who don’t. (How one speaks is not always a marker of intelligence but some folks think it is. Use that to your advantage.)

One medium-major (not major but well-rounded and not secondary) character in my current series speaks with a distinctive, deep-southern accent. He also routinely uses “bigger” words. He might say “alleviate” or “utilize” when he means “ease” or “use” but that’s part of who he is and how he speaks.

That isn’t me “differentiating” the characters through their use of dialogue. That’s the characters speaking the way they speak and me following along like a happy lap puppy, writing it all down.

Okay, so then you know what’s coming. Listen to people speak, and take mental notes. I used to tell people the best way to learn dialogue is to hang out in Denny’s at various times (and at various times of day) through the week.

For example, at 2 a.m. in Denny’s you might get to hear cop-speak and bum-speak and failed-lawyer-speak and oilfield-roughneck-speak all at at the same time.

But don’t consciously try to mimic that in your stories. When your characters start speaking, just write what they say the way they say it.

The novel probably will wrap today. Maybe tomorrow, depending on what else today holds.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Skipping a Day” at

See “38 Themed Calls for Submissions” at

See “What My Horse Taught Me About Characters Arcs” at

See “Is the Pirate Queen of Scientific Publishing in Real Trouble This Time?” at Be sure to see PG’s take to see the real villain.

See “How Twitter can ruin a life” at Again, see PG’s take.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1110 words

Writing of WCGN2: The Comancheros (novel)

Day 10… 3220 words. Total words to date…… 28916
Day 11… 4036 words. Total words to date…… 32952
Day 12… 4848 words. Total words to date…… 37800
Day 13… 3411 words. Total words to date…… 41211

Total fiction words for July……… 14715
Total fiction words for the year………… 543394
Total nonfiction words for July… 3980
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 129770
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 673164

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 10
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 3
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 63
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.