A MAGICIAN'S FAVORITE trick often deals with invisibility - making things disappear and reappear. Perhaps those tricks are crowd pleasers because they touch on the human experience of mysteriously losing your stuff all the time? (OK, that's a male perspective, I know). But in the field of storytelling, the trick is keeping focus. Losing your focus is the disappearing act you want to avoid.
For instance, we've all watched films or read books that seem to drag on. It's the editor's job to crack the whip and keep images, sounds and thoughts flowing in a way that keep interest and, just as importantly, advance the message you're trying to deliver. There's a reason Shakespeare said "brevity is the soul of wit." We are an easily distracted species. Just ask a preacher.
It's important to ditch preconceptions about story length. Verbosity does not equal greatness. Sure, a well-made film can keep us riveted in our seats for well over 100 minutes, but that's the result of a team of professionals, on and off-screen, using every skill and technique available. And as Hollywood pros will tell you, it's the writing that drives the film and allows the other elements to work their magic. Does the film make us care about the characters? Love them or hate them? If you could care less about the people in the story, odds are you won't watch that film or buy that book.
Pacing problems can also kill stories. Many stories start strong and then start wandering. Remember the broadcast editor's advice in writing for the ear: once you use a comma, the next punctuation mark should be a period. Don't be afraid to end your story when you have a strong, natural way to do so.
Filmmakers use "focus pullers" to keep adjusting focus during a scene. Done well, it's almost invisible to the viewer. But when there's a focus goof, it stands out. The same applies to story flow, especially as you are making a final point.
That was the cue to exit this blog post. Start making words disappear, and see your focus sharpen. It may even be magical.