|Short Stories: December 19, 2018 Issue [#9280]|
This week: What's the Focus? Edited by: Thankful Sonali Going CRAZY!
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|A couple of examples to illustrate 'focus' and its importance to a character and plot in a story.|
Example #1: My Mom was Principal of a nursery school. She had about forty staff members under her. Prior to her joining the school, the management had a system of 'red dots' on the staff register, for any employee who came in more then ten minutes late. Four red dots and you lost a day of paid-leave.
One of the first things Mom did on joining was to abolish that system. People would sign the register. They would be either 'present' or, if they hadn't signed, 'absent'. They would not be late. The reason? She trusted her staff. She trusted that the intention of each one was to arrive at school on time every day, and that any delays were not under their control. That being the case, the red dot system would not reduce late-coming.
What would it do, instead?
It would shift the teacher's focus.
Say the teacher got held up because her car broke down on the way to school. After getting the car fixed or getting alternative transport, the teacher would then be thinking about that red dot, and how she could, maybe, avoid getting it by sprinting, if she got there in time. The teacher's focus would be on the red dot, avoiding it or facing the consequences.
In fact, the teacher's attention, once the problem of getting to school was solved, should have been her students, the projects she was going to do with them, and how the day was going to pan out.
The red dot system had shifted the teacher's focus.
Example #2: A friend of mine organises 'The Handmade Collective' annually. She brings together about a hundred artisans from all over India, and sets up an exhibition for them to display their wares and sell these directly to customers, without any middleman.
Here are a few of the artists and creators, at the collective.
These are people who may not have the marketing acumen to reach prospective customers themselves. Many of them come from remote towns and villages, and have no access to urban buyers. They are talented and hard-working, part of a shrinking breed of committed artists, and this is an opportunity that helps make their talent economically viable.
My friend Mala has been organising this for nine years now, and it has expanded to four more cities. It goes on for five days at a time, usually Wednesday to Sunday, early morning to late evening.
When she started out, entry tickets were priced at Rs. 20. She then increased it to Rs. 30. The current price of an entry ticket is Rs. 50. Which means, if I go on all five days, which I sometimes do, I spend Rs. 250 just on entering. Which is still fine.
What happened this year was, the artisans donated some of their handmade pieces as raffle prizes. It was decided to sell raffle tickets @ Rs. 50 each, to raise money for the artisans' welfare. All very well, except that it became compulsory to buy a raffle ticket on entering Which effectively raised the entry fee to Rs. 100.
There were young volunteers at the gate, those who had been given a job to do and were doing it enthusiastically to help out. However, I emailed Mala (the event organiser) that I thought she might want to take another look at making that raffle ticket compulsory. I noticed the focus changing. People had come in a festive mood, to buy stuff. They were willing to spend Rs. 50 to enter. But on being informed that something which should've been voluntary was now compulsory, and that this would double what they had to pay, the body language changed. Some frowned slightly. Others twitched their heads. Some raised their eyebrows. Nothing major, and they paid up politely enough.
But the focus had shifted for them.
From being about a sale and what they were going to see and buy, it became about what had been forced upon them. They are not cheap, they don't mind helping artisans out, and they, too, enjoy the opportunity the collective offers. They're expecting an entry fee. But I have the feeling that taking the bubbliness out of them may have, however slightly, hampered sales. After all, most items sold at the fair are impulse purchases, made on a momentary emotion. "I want it" "I must have it" "Oh this is so lovely, it'll go well with ..." The mind being clogged with "Ah, I never win those raffles anyway" would not have helped.
What does this mean, for writers and their characters?
Well, there are 'noisy' situations. By noisy, I mean busy, cluttered with stuff happening. The beginning of the day, for a nursery school teacher, would be about whether her class would like the art project, whether little Emma would be back in school after a bout of flu, whether Chandrika would've managed ot read the library book she insisted on taking home yesterday in spite of it being higher than her reading level ...
About whether she would lose a day's paid-leave by getting her fourth red dot.
Which is the part of the noise that she listens to. So the plot is about the red dot. (Which rhymes, coincidentally.) This being a short story, the art project, Emma's health and Chandrika's progress with reading will probably find a one-line mention, if any at all.
Ditto the handicrafts fair. Whether Nitesh bought the pendant for his girlfriend (red or blue?), whether Sonali went to the glass-animals stall first and picked up all the cutest owls, whether Swati finally persuaded her husband that a new sari was within their budget ... may or may not be told, because the character and writer were following the progress of the raffle ticket.
But we, as writers, are privileged. You see, we create all the noise. And therefore, we get to pick which part of it our character listens to (most of the time, anyway! ). And we get to have a focus, and change it with a twirl of the pencil or a backspace on the keyboard.
And have a lot of fun doing so.
Thanks for listening!
More photos of the Handicrafts fair:
"Artist and Works of Art"
"Artist at Hundred Hands"
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|Thank you for the responses to "The Nature of the Beast" |
I understand this. My sister-in-law is married to a man that is deaf. I noticed over the years when we get together she seems to talk nonstop. I get this. When My husband is off traveling, I call my daughter and talk a long time.
Recd. by email from Radioman
This is a very good newsletter. It has depth and emotion. Most old people have only a bit of future, if any. They live in the past because it's what they have the most, memories. Everyone is in the same boat, as it were. You were a fresh listener, not someone who will say:, "Oh I've heard that before."
You have an excellent topic, one that may require much thought and even more outlining, or maybe even a few false starts.
I wish you well.
A very poignant story. Advance age comes to us all. My mother-in-law advised she had her retirement placement already picked out. We vetted the place together. After recurring heart issues and insertion of a pacemaker forced the decision to move there. The staff and residents are friendly. Although there are activities to partake in, she rarely does.
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