Creative Writing: The great balancing act of crafting fiction

scales-art-1046106-mI have been thinking a lot about balance in fiction: about how often good writing boils down to keeping between two extremes, or simply not saying something too emphatically or too often.

On that note, I’d like to write today about balance, and some of the different things we writers are always trying to balance. There’s a LOT of balancing going on…. and that’s perfectly normal.

As writers, we can feel disconcerted or doubtful when we stop to consider how many things we’re actually juggling at the same time. But it’s nothing to freak out over or to cause us to lose confidence.

This epic act of balancing is why writers do multiple editing passes. We can always read through and get one aspect of balancing right before we concentrate on others. This can prevent us feeling overwhelmed and help us achieve, in the end, as close to the ideal of what we want our story to be as we can.

We also pull in beta readers and editors to help us recognize when things are out of whack.

Now, with that disclaimer set forth… Let’s bring out our inner gymnasts.

1. Plot (action, story) and Character (backstory, characterization) in the first chapters of a novel.

I’ve struggled with this one a lot, particularly in regards to one of my discarded novels….. I even wrote a post about it. It can be tough to advance the story fast enough to keep readers interested, while also giving them a reason to care about the characters and what happens to them by portraying said characters as deep, real people.

2. Emotional Responses and their Stimuli.

As people, we are sometimes prone to overreacting. Sometimes prone to rumination and dwelling on things that we really don’t need to obsess about. So it makes sense that, perhaps, a character might do these things.

Still, presentation matters. It matters a great deal. As I talked about yesterday in a post about balancing internal conflict, when a character (particularly a point of view character) is overreacting to something or obsessing about something, even something important:

  • You run the risk of that character alienating readers.
  • Your character can come across as petty, selfish, and arrogant.

Of course, this may be the whole point. You may want that. Don’t forget that a subtle wink and nod, letting the reader know you understand how frustrating a character is, helps readers invest.

It’s easier to put up with an off-putting character when we understand that the author agrees with our judgment of him or her and doesn’t want or expect us to judge that character to be likeable.

3. How often we use the same words and phrases

Much of editing (or at least, a surface level, proof-reading kind of editing) involves balancing the words, phrases, and sentence structures that we employ from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter.

Repeat words or structures too often, and your writing will sound stilted. I can say that, personally, after having an interesting and cohesive story, there are few things that I need more to invest in a novel than a basic variety of vocabulary and sentence structure. Otherwise I feel like I’m reading a child’s writing. It’s just TOO basic. TOO simple.

And believe me, I like short, simple sentences in my own writing. In fact, I prefer them more often than not. I have a minimalist style. Even keeping to that end of spectrum, though, you can introduce variety.

4. How many times we repeat a concept or plot point, rephrasing it, for emphasis.

Sometimes we do need to repeat an idea for our readers.

  • It might be complex, so we introduce it in chunks and rehash a bit of what we’ve already revealed.
  • It might be that one character is out of the know, and needs to be clued in.
  • It might be that something is simply important enough–or will be important enough later–that we want to give it some emphasis via repetition.

All that’s fine. Totally fine. The key is to balance how often we’re repeating or emphasizing something. Even if we vary the way the topic is repeated, using different phrases and different tones, it can get to be too much, especially in early drafts.

So, what do you find it difficult to balance when you write? What comes naturally to you? Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the great balancing act?

Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”

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12 responses to “Creative Writing: The great balancing act of crafting fiction

  1. I work a story with an ensemble cast, so I have trouble finding balance between all of them. The goal is to give each character at least one scene to shine in for a book with one or two having the main focus. That’s the easy part. The hard part is when all 6-7 main characters are in a scene and talking. I find that I’m always forgetting one or two, so I have to add them in. Gets very confusing.

    • I have some moments like that in The Crimson League. it’s tough!!! when so many people are together….and you can’t logically exclude one or send him off somewhere for the conversation….

      • I have noticed that one or two characters can work rather well with only having a few statements of insight. So I’m trying to work it like a real group where you have your chatterboxes and your patient listeners.

  2. Reblogged this on Kaitlyn Deann and commented:
    “Repeat words or structures too often, and your writing will sound stilted. I can say that, personally, after having an interesting and cohesive story, there are few things that I need more to invest in a novel than a basic variety of vocabulary and sentence structure. Otherwise I feel like I’m reading a child’s writing. It’s just TOO basic. TOO simple.”

  3. Great post, thanks for sharing. You always give me a lot to think of to help improve my writing! 🙂

  4. Hi VIctoria, your post comes at a time when I am applying lessons from “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”. I just re-read the chapter on Easy Beats. The authors go into some detail on providing enough inner monolog and beats to move the story along, without getting in the way of telling the story.

    Then they opine that there is no right answer, as it is something each writer much discover for themselves.

    I guess only critiques and beta readings can give us hints.

    Thank you,

    Silent

  5. Pingback: Why “Balance” in Fiction Rarely Means a 50/50 Split | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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