The two pictures above are of the same subject: the fairy garden in our backyard. Yet, despite that they’re taken in the same location, at the same time and have the same subject, they both have a very different feel. This is largely because of the fact that they’re focused on different fairies. In one, our basket-carrying fairy in the back looks suspicious or concerned as she gazes on the fairy at the forefront. In the other, the fairy at the front looks tired perhaps, or maybe she’s caught in her own daydream. The difference between the two pictures is marginal, but it creates entire worlds of different meanings.
The same thing occurs in writing with stories. Where you focus the reader’s attention can make an entire difference to how the story feels. Focus allows you to not only amplify key details such as thematic elements, but also to help play with tension where you need it. By focusing on character motivations and conflicts, quieter scenes bring more impact and weight. Similarly, when focused on the flow from one action to the next, fight or action scenes become tenser and draw your readers along to the next plot point without having to add in extraneous details.
Stylistically, focus also helps create interest in the way we tell our stories. Although it might seem as if writing lacks the ability to zoom in on one key detail or image the way a camera angle might, focus can solve this too. During particularly intense scenes you can slow them down by spending extra words on detail. Conversely, if you need to slow down a scene, take your focus off what’s happening and more on what the character is thinking as they reason out the next action they need to take.
Focus also applies to point of view. In first person, where you direct your focus can help characterize your main character, as the story is told from their view and thus, where their focus goes is what your readers come to understand as something your MC would notice. In third person limited, your focal character carries the brunt of the story or scene and allows you to control what your readers know about the story.
As an Exercise: Write three quick versions of one of your favorite fairy or folk tales. In one, focus on the actions and events as they flow from one another. In the second, focus on the details for imagery and theme. And in the third, focus on what the characters are thinking or feeling as the story progresses.