Thursday, December 15, 2011

Balance: Part Two — Finding Balance Within Your Writing

Ok. So you carve out some time for yourself, grab some inspiration out of thin air, have a blinding bolt of supercharged energy flow right through you and your keyboard, and blaze along at a furious pace, racking up word count the way a race car eats up track.
Suddenly, four chapters later, you realize all of those words have to do with the backstory of the waitress serving the main characters... a minor character who will fade back into the scenery, and whose presence is not integral to the plot. And you blew five thousand words on her irrelevant childhood.

It's clear that you've lost your Balance.
Now, this is not a disaster by any stretch, however much you may lament what could be perceived as wasted opportunity. If it's first draft, copy what you wrote and save it. Chances are, what you wrote may be needed somewhere else in the story; like a costume, it may fit another character! Waste not, want not, I always say. It's been my experience that if you wrote it at all, some part of your muse wants it to be there. You just need to find a place for it.

But what to do when going back through your novel for a second and third draft pass? You need your scenes to balance.
I like to keep a checklist. Besides grammar and structure, a good series of things to look for as you revise would be:

Does the scene:

Move the plot along? Reveal or change something about your characters? Change the mood?

Change anything at all?
This may seem obvious, but every scene is about change. Something has to change for your characters (or for your reader), for it to be a complete scene. If your hero walks into a diner, orders lunch and learns nothing about himself, the mystery, or anything else, if nothing is revealed to the reader that changes any of the same things, then the scene is not over. A scene is never over until something changes.

Does it speak in the 'voice' of your novel?
Remember that, although different scenes from different points of view can have different voices or styles, they should be consistent with each other. Villain with villain, setting with setting, etc.

Does it carry too much detail? Too little? That waitress detail, if she's a 'throwaway character', may be a bit much.

And finally, how does your scene play with other scenes? If you take a big step back, and look at all of your scenes all at once, do you see a pattern? Unless you are deliberately writing chaotically, you will likely see a pattern... a cadence. Villain, crime, heroine. Or crime, colour, hero. Do an experiment. Take a look, from fuzzy eyes, far away, and see if you can pick out the patterns that naturally occur in your writing.

I think that balance is a second-and-beyond draft exercise, but it's important to consider, at least, even while you are writing that whirlwind first draft.

Happy writing!
Kate Burns

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