Achieving Strong Articulation and Focus
By Evan Braun
This post is part of our special series that will unpack the criteria we consider when evaluating manuscripts. Today we are considering articulation and focus. Whether you are in the midst of writing, or have already received feedback from us, our hope is that this series will provide the insight you need to make your manuscript even better. View the full series here.
When we’re looking at submissions to the Braun Book Awards, one of the metrics on which we evaluate the writing is Articulation and Focus. It’s a really important metric for a book to score well on.
A lot of the other areas on which we evaluate books coalesce here. We’ve looked at dialogue and characterization, structure and research, and yes, we’ve looked at the mechanics of the writing—in other words, how well has the author managed grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
But after a book comes through those more prosaic (albeit crucial) tests of writing skill, it all comes together in Articulation and Focus. Here is where we ask this all-important question: will readers clearly understand what the author is trying to communicate?
If you’ve written a book that ultimately doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t land with the reader as intended, then it means there has been a breakdown in clarity at some point along the way. There’s been a disconnect.
Clarity is really important, as I’ve written about on this blog before. I highly recommend clicking that link and reading what I had to say on the subject, because it’s foundational. But here’s what it comes down to: don’t get in your own way. As much as possible, keep it simple—let the natural merits of your story come through without getting distracted by the need to add stylization that might unnecessarily confuse the reader. A truly great story doesn’t need all that window dressing.
Generally speaking, my advice would be that the best route through your story is probably the direct one, the one that for the most part manages to avoid those pesky rabbit trails that lead writer and reader alike into the weeds.
Before I sign off for today, let me provide an example of what I’m talking about—and it’s an example I’ve used before. When evaluating biographies (and autobiographies), I find that a large number of manuscripts fall into a category I’ve taken to calling “kitchen sink memoirs.” These are memoirs that start at birth, or earlier, and move through a person’s life chronologically, sparing no detail.
The key part is that they spare no detail. Any of every tidbit of information of this person’s life ends up on the page, and the result tends to be a book that’s quite a bit longer than it needs to me—and not coincidentally, I think there’s a tendency for these sorts of books to struggle in terms of holding the reader’s attention.
That’s because they lack focus.
In a first draft, it’s absolutely a good idea to spill out every detail and follow the rabbit trail the writer can think of. That’s what brainstorming and first drafts are for. But at some point, just like an overrun garden won’t produce the best fruits and vegetables, the story needs to be pruned down to its essential elements so that the reader’s attention isn’t pulled in too many directions.
It really does come down to one word: simplicity. Aim to be direct, aim to be concise… and aim to be simple. It’s a recipe for success.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.