Narrow your focusToday is Picture Book Wednesday and I wanted to explore the idea of focus. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of working with two writers and their picture books. One of the topics that came up was how to deal with a story that has multiple purposes.

In your story, you may be (1) talking about caring for the environment while (2) telling a story about a family in the woods who gets lost while also (3) wanting to show how the child main character is strong and independent.

Can you do all that in a picture book? Yes. But it will take a lot of skill to ensure that the story is effective and engaging. if I approached it, I would ask: Of those three goals, which is the strongest or means the most to me? If I had to, could I choose only one?

Let’s say the answer to that last question was yes and I chose caring for the environment. The book might become non-fiction or a “what to do/what not to do,” using a story to carry the messages or teaching moments. Nothing wrong with either of those approaches and knowing that’s what you want to do will really help you write or revise. (Note: The market for the book–which publishers may be open to it–would shift).

If I’m more interested in telling a story of a family who is lost in the woods, then it’s possible the idea of caring for the environment will appear, but it won’t be the main focus. And having an independent and strong main character will work no matter what. I can show that easily by what she says and does (maybe she helps them find their way!) as long as she has room to grow and change as a character.

The most important thing is to continue to ask ourselves: What’s my story about? Not just the plot, but what’s the underlying theme? If I know this then everything I write, all the small scenes in my story, should reflect that vision and any that don’t I need to revise or discard.

How do you focus your story?