Scope is what everyone is talking about when they talk about genre. The scope of your story defines the genre — some concepts and ideas are in and others are out.
What is the scope of any piece of writing? It’s the circle you draw around all the content. It’s every feature you choose to use. Getting your scope right takes time and thought — and the right content.
Once you have a defined the scope of your story, you have a center, or a pivot point, and a perimeter to guide and define all your writing efforts.
Scope is a super-tool for creating and editing.
Finding your scope
Here are three examples of scope:
- This textbook covers the American Revolution and no other time period.
- This is a classic romance with no mix of any other genre.
- This is a thriller and I absolutely refuse to let the lead character fall in love — this has not a drop of romance in it!
Scope is what everyone is talking about when talking about genre. The scope of your story defines the genre — some concepts and ideas are in and others are out.
Yes, you can innovate, or even do hybrid mixes of genre, but if you write one of the well-known types of stories, you will largely inherit your scope. A murder mystery has a murder and a detective. A romance requires a couple, lots of obstacles and a happy ending. A thriller is defined by a crime and thrills.
Every author who has pioneered a new genre, or sub-genre, has really just pioneered a new scope: one that can now be used over and over again with new variations.
If you decide to write a memoir, for example, certain things will be in scope and others are out. This is a story about you, for example, and you need to be center stage.
Establishing your scope
Every work has a scope and it’s one of the most important anatomical parts of any work.
You are establishing your scope every time you pick up a pen or sit at the computer. What am I really writing about? This defines what belongs and what doesn’t. What should be highlighted and emphasized and what is on the periphery to add color and flavor.
Scope is every choice you make about a piece, from length, to the number of parts, to the tense you pick.
Is it first person or third? Is there going to be one point of view or many? Is it going to have one storyline or many? How many characters will there be and how will they interact? What is the setting? The plot?
The selections you choose are based on what helps tell the story best.
Honing your scope is the purpose of subsequent drafts. Is this story really about this or that? Once you nail it down, things fall into place.
If you are still searching for your scope, you are defining it as you write. The content and ideas you add define the center and boundaries of the scope. If you know your scope, you are just filling it in while you write.
The size of your scope
The size of your scope is critical to producing a readable and balanced work because it is related to the number of words you need to do it justice.
A piece of micro-fiction only has space for an isolated incident of extreme note. In a book, you can duly treat a long series of events and do them all justice. If the scope is too large, you’ll end up with shallower treatment of everything you cover. With a narrower scope, you can reach greater depths.
Lack of scope
Scope can creep away from you. Perhaps you add a new character and the story seems to shoot off into a new direction that you haven’t accounted for. This is a scope dilemma. Do you follow or cut?
If you experience a shift, fine, just clean up the mess and complete the adjustment.
When your scope is misshapen, many things go wrong. The plot can wander. It can go in too many directions or just stand still. Ideas won’t add up. Characters won’t interact in exciting ways. Things go flat or become confusing.
If you don’t know what your piece is about — or readers don’t — it amounts to a less-than-ideal reading experience.
Why scope matters
Mastering your scope gives you the best possible chance to unify your content and have readers understand what your story is trying to convey. With a well-defined scope based around a strong story center, everything has a place and everything is in its place.
Look at your work. No matter where you are in the writing process, can you easily define the scope? Do you know which reader expectations you are working towards? Does the scope match the audience? What should you do next to hone your scope even more?
Are you in need of a minor or major scope shift to get you to your perfect draft? Or is the scope of your story just right as it is? When it is, you are on the road to polishing up your work and sending it out the door.
Find the center of your book
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