Why “Balance” in Fiction Rarely Means a 50/50 Split

balance-875413-mBalance in creative writing has been the theme of my last few posts, and today I wanted to start one more discussion about balance. In particular, I wanted to explore how  in fiction “balance” between two things doesn’t necessarily mean a 50/50 or 33/33/33 split between two or three aspects of a novel.

It also doesn’t mean the same thing from author to author, from genre to genre, or even from one person’s novel to the next one she writes.

Muddying the picture even more is the fact that all the aspects of fiction we try to balance: “action” with “depth,” “world-building” with “story” (at least in my genre of fantasy) are extremely wide-ranging in terms of definition.


What I consider exciting, gripping action might not be enough to keep someone else’s attention. What I consider sweet and romantic about my novels will definitely not interest people used to reading romance novels or people who want a paranormal romance.

Heck, I have reviews up that literally say there is a heart-pounding moment in every chapter of “The Crimson League” to keep readers enthralled, next to reviews that say I bored a reader so much she stopped reading.

So that’s one thing I wanted to reflect on today…. no matter what your ideal personal balance is, it’s not going to please everyone. It can’t. People are just far too different from one another and read for far too many reasons.

You are not necessarily a bad author or far, far from your balance if some people can’t get into your book. What matters is the reaction from your target audience.

Spend some time thinking about who your ideal reader is.

  • What does he or she like in a story?
  • What’s MOST important in a story to him or her? (Your balance will weigh those things more heavily).
  • Why does he or she read?
  • What things are absolute deal-breakers for that person?

This shouldn’t be too hard. Why? Your ideal reader should share a lot in common with you. That’s why I don’t believe this post is conflicting with my overall philosophy of “writing for you.”

After all, the most important thing is for you to enjoy your story: to find some kind of fulfillment in it, to grow as a result of it. It would never make sense for an author to write a story that he or she can’t connect with, about characters he or she doesn’t care about.
By default, we’re all writing for people (largely) who come to stories for similar reasons that we do. This is why focusing on your ideal reader is most helpful  in the editing phase:

  • When we’re trying to weed some things out and need to determine what makes most sense to cut.
  • When we’re trying to determine what we might not be explaining clearly enough, or in contrast, are emphasizing too much.
  • When we’re trying to view our characters and their decisions from “other” eyes, to get a picture of how readers with no innate emotional connection with them will judge them and/or make sense of what they’re doing.

There a lot of things that make balance difficult to achieve in fiction. In a lot of ways, balance is more of a goal and an ideal than a result. We’ll never write a “perfect” story. Every author has things they do well and things they are not so good at or things they find more difficult…

I personally strive to AVOID my weaknesses as much as I can, and make great use of my strengths. That’s how my personal style develops. That’s how everyone’s style develops, I think. It’s how we discover what “balance” means to us


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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10 responses to “Why “Balance” in Fiction Rarely Means a 50/50 Split

  1. I suspect that one of the balances anyone needs to find in their writing is between what interests them and what interests their intended audience. If you pick something you’re passionate about, as you should, then those interests will be very similar. But the minute you become a writer rather than just a reader your perspective starts to shift, so that creates a gap to balance. And if you have an exciting knew idea you think that people will love but that they haven’t got used to yet, so don’t know that they’ll love, you have to balance the familiar and what’s new for them. It’s an interesting thing to grapple with, and interesting to read your take on it.

  2. Good post on an interesting topic. I know my personal tastes are biased toward near constant gripping action, but with some depth to give the action meaning. I find it hard to locate my preferred balance of action/depth and good storytelling/good writing in most books. This post certainly gives some food for thought. Thanks!

  3. Great post. Though, I’m not sure I know who my ideal audience is. I can never answer that question and usually blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. When writing, I’m simply having fun and enjoying the story. As you said, an ideal audience is probably people like myself. After all, if you love what you’re writing, it’ll show in the words.

  4. Thanks, Victoria, for such a informative post. It gave me an idea to run a poll among my Facebook or Goodread friends, maybe both, to not only get interaction, but also to get an idea of who my target audience is, and to keep this in mind as I write and revise. 🙂

  5. You bring up some interesting points. I can’t say I know for sure who my ideal audience is either. I’m writing fantasy and striving for young adult, but some of the teens I know prefer contemporary fantasy rather than medieval fantasy. But it has action as well as quieter moments. I’m trying to find the right balance as you mentioned.

  6. Pingback: Should your first scene be about action or exposition? 4 considerations to help writers find balance | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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