The Journal: Focusing Down, Revisited, Briefly

In today’s Journal

* Topic: Focusing Down, Revisited, Briefly
* I’m in a race
* The Numbers

Topic: Focusing Down, Revisited, Briefly

Hmm. I think there might be a bit of a disconnect between what I mean and what you hear when I say “focus down.”

When I say a writer should focus down, I’m going back to emphasizing that it’s the characters’ story as described through the physical and emotional senses of the POV character. It isn’t what the writer thinks (critical mind) to add-in, but what the POV character sees, hears, smell, tastes and touches and his opinions of all that.

I’m talking about including some of the unusually minuscule details that probably 99.999% of all writers skip over because they, not the characters, are describing the scene. Like 99.999% of all writers use the sense of sight, but omit the others and then wonder why readers say their work is “thin.”

I’m talking about forcing the reader to focus deeper into the setting and the scene (and therefore become more engaged in the story) because his attention is drawn for an instant to something you didn’t omit.

Just as I recommend using all five (of the POV character’s) physical senses at least once in every major scene, I recommend focusing down with at least one of those senses in every major scene. And more is better.

Not the toast that’s been sliced corner to corner and dropped on your table on a small plate next to the larger one but the slip of butter melting down one side. Not the fluffy yellow scrambled eggs but the overcooked, crusty brown edge. Not only the traffic your POV character sees passing by on the busy four-lane road past the chain-link fence and the yellowed grassy slope outside but the police cruiser that pulls up directly beneath your window and the scowl on the driver’s face as he slams the gearshift into Park and hurries out of the car. And what your character does next as a result.

All of this is also part of taking your time with description (depth) as a writer. Which means you allow the POV character to sense whatever he or she senses and then you, as the writer, record all of that. But you don’t intrude; you only record.

Most importantly, when I talk about focusing down and every other craft topic I talk about in the Journal, I’m speaking as a serious, working fiction writer to other serious, working fiction writers who want to improve their storytelling ability. I’m sharing things that will more deeply engage your readers and make them want to come back to you for more stories.

As one well-meaning commenter wrote (paraphrased), “By Focus Down do you mean Leitmotif? Theme? A running gag? Or even perhaps an echoing metaphoric contrast revisited during denouement?”

And my response, “Yes, all of that and more, but not in a reading group or literary discussion or lecture hall. All of that but dripping from the tip of your fingers onto a keyboard or from the tip of your pen onto a yellow legal pad. And all of that from the POV character, not the writer.”

I’m not talking about skimming the surface with catchphrases and nibbling narrow slices of bree on crackers and sipping wine. All of that is fine in its own setting, but not at the keyboard. I’m talking about you as a writer rolling up your sleeves, wiping sweat from your brow with the back of your wrist, and going deep into the writing process in a practical way.

That’s the main reason I mentioned yesterday that I’d included Focusing Down in my Writing Craft mentorships. I can talk all day in these posts or in a nonfiction book on the topic, or I can spend a half-hour actually showing you how to focus down in the context of your actual story.

When you read a nonfiction book on writing, there’s a disconnect between understanding and actually doing, between learning and applying.

Likewise, when I write a nonfiction book, I have to disconnect myself with the outcome. I have no way of knowing how much or to what level the writer will understand, or whether or how well a writer will apply what I’m trying to teach. I just toss the knowledge out there, then hope writers pick it up, dust it off, and make it their own.

When I mentor a writer, there is no disconnect on either end. Mentoring increases my understanding, directly through the writer’s work, of the writer’s ability and what s/he needs, and the writer’s understanding of the lesson being imparted. Mentoring erases all those nasty disconnects.

Additional note: For more examples of focusing down, read Lee Loffland’s post linked in “Of Interest” today.

I find myself in a race with time. My next short story for the Cave Creek Shared Worlds class is due in Dean’s computer by Sunday at midnight.

But I’m in the midst of a particularly intense part of my current novel.

I want to submit another story, but I don’t want to interrupt the flow of the novel to do so. Can I finish the novel by Saturday? I have no idea. Can I set aside the novel, write and submit the short story, and then return to the novel?

Of course. Every time I get up and walk away from the novel I leave a ragged edge that I have to finish smoothing out when I come back. That gets me back into the flow of the story and the novel continues to flow.

So if I want to submit another story (I do) and if the novel doesn’t wrap by Saturday, well, I might have a decision to make re the novel. For now I hope it doesn’t come to that. On the other hand, it’s a nice problem to have.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “28 Journals Seeking Very Short Prose & Poetry” at

See “Day Five: Writing a Novel In A Half Month” at

See “Miss Evelyn, R.D. (Root Doctor) and the Grave Robbers” at

See “Making Up Words” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 970 words

Writing of The Journey Home: Part 7 (novel)

Day 1…… 6065 words. Total words to date…… 6065
Day 2…… 3887 words. Total words to date…… 9952
Day 3…… 3170 words. Total words to date…… 13122
Day 4…… 3862 words. Total words to date…… 16984
Day 5…… 3905 words. Total words to date…… 20889

Total fiction words for February……… 82691
Total fiction words for the year………… 180168
Total nonfiction words for February… 15730
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 41060
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 221228

Calendar Year 2021 Novels to Date…………………… 3
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 57
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 215
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

2 thoughts on “The Journal: Focusing Down, Revisited, Briefly”

  1. In your mentoring content you mention “the seven-senses exercise.” Besides sight, sound, smell, taste, and tactile sensations, what else do you mean? Opinions? Emotions?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Thanks, Bob. I put that together so long ago, I honestly can’t remember. I’ve changed it to “five senses.” But yes, the emotional senses (fear, joy, nostalia, etc.) are important too as a way of adding tenstion and further revealing the character.

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