I read a recent craft book on the importance of bringing a visual object into the story that links the setting. They used a big clock on the tower in town.
Why Did I pick the great well?
Because it connects everything. The castle has natural springs under it and delivers the water through a series of viaducts to the great well. The great well nourishes the farmers’ crops. It provides water for the city. The majority of citizens collect their water from the great well for cooking, cleaning, etc. It is a gathering point for the city and often the site of speeches, gossip, and more. It is also the compass to the city. North of the great well lies the temple and further on, the castle. To the north and south lie the shops in the city. To the east and west, the residences.
Could I have used Another Focal Point?
Yes, possibly the temple or castle. But then, not all of the citizens would be connected to the castle. Only those in favor with the Bishop would be allowed entrance. Of course, prisoners are sometimes kept in the dungeons. Or in the jail south of town. The temple could’ve also been a focal point as it is where the city worships. Three worships a day are held in the morning and evening for the devout. It is where members are baptized. It serves as a court and a marriage auction at times. The reason I decided not to use the temple are again, the great well serves as a compass to the city.
Does Having a Focal Point Really Work?
I think so. It pulls the story together, gives it a focus. When my characters are parted, it serves as a reference point to each. It is a guide and an indicator of how far they’ve come or how far they still have to go. It connects the city to each other. Families have grown up beside the well. Farmers have grown their fields with the help of the great well. Even the temple gets its water from the well. It is a life force for all involved.
How Do You Discover the Focal Pont for Your Story?
Find something important to your character. Important to the setting. It could be a café where friends meet. A train station. The subway. A farm where one of your characters grew up. Perhaps a motel where your character gets stranded. It’s a place that your characters go to time and again. It’s not a one-time encounter and then never mentioned again. Some place familiar. Something with importance. It could be a candy shop for your MG characters. A burger stand for your teens. What about a library or bank for your adult characters? There’s lots of places to choose from day-to-day life.
Return to the scene over and over.
Don’t just use the setting once and throw it away. Keep going back to it. If you’re in the woods, return to that campfire. Roast some smores. Fire up a grill or two. Investigate those cabins. The woods surrounding them. Lose the Wi-fi. Could be fun. Or dangerous. Depending on what you have in mind for your characters. What about a character’s return to his childhood home? Does he have a new wife? Children? Is he haunted by the past? Troubled by the future? Do his children hate him? Have he and his wife argued? Anything can happen and the homecoming will add to the tension.
Keep it Simple.
It doesn’t have to be a grand museum or a castle-in-the-air. Simple will work. Think of a hobby your character does. Are they into ceramics? Bows? Cooking? There could be a school they travel to five days out of the week. Perhaps their professor is a creep. Or they’re failing and don’t want their parents to know. They’re floundering with alcoholism and about to be placed in AA. Maybe the focal point is an animal. A horse. A hawk. Something unusual or quite ordinary. The animal could be their point-of-reference. Especially if they’re homeless. They either follow the animal around, or the animal locates them each day.
Some Author’s Focal Points.
Who could forget the Overlook Hotel? With its brooding, nightmarish visions? For Danny and his family, it isolates them from the world outside. Or the Whisper Room in Dean Koontz’s new Jane Hawk series? It keeps the characters on their toes. It can only be gotten to by one of the adjusted and therein lies the problem for Jane and her allies. The circus in By A Charm & a Curse by Jaime Questrall serves as the background for terror and chaos for its characters. They can’t venture beyond its boundaries. It is the reason for their problems and the solution to finding a new life outside. In the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the home they are confined to serves as the focal point. They can only leave to go to the market or meetings. It is their point of contact. The thorn in their sides. In The Evil Queen by Gena Showalter, has Enchantia as its background. It’s the world of possibilities and curses, choose which one you dare. A Curse So Dark and Lonely offers Emberly where the beast is prisoner and must have girls forced from their world and shoved into his in order for him to break the curse before he kills again. In Nora Roberts’ Dark Witch series, the focal point is the dark witch’s cabin where life for the family took root and was destroyed by the sorcerer’s intrusion. Likewise, in her Pagan Stone series, the stone is the center of the story and will either lead to their salvation of destruction. What about the hotel in Psycho? Could you imagine Norman Bates in any other setting? The prison where Hannibal Lector is held? Would he be any less menacing if he were to meet Clarice Starling in a puppy store?
Consider your focal point and where it should lie. The importance of it may be stronger than you think.
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