Achieving balance

the balanced narrativeYou’ve heard the saying, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The implication is that a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence and leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.

When we are newly-hatched authors, we eagerly soak up the wisdom offered to us through writing seminars and handbooks on the craft of writing.

But if you are an avid reader, someone who reads widely and in many different genres, you can see that writing is not simply a matter of following rules.

This is especially true in regard to the many-layered concept of exposition, introducing background and necessary information into the narrative.

Sometimes there is life in a manuscript that has broken all the rules. The work shines because it’s clear that the writer had passion and it was conveyed in the written word. Life is a natural consequence of the rush of creativity and is set into the manuscript when the first words are written.

Unfortunately it is easy to murder what began as a beautiful story. Consider those writers who spend years carefully combing every spark of accidental passion out of their work, creating textbook-perfect sentences that are flat, toneless. The reader has no desire to care about the characters or their struggle.

kurt-vonnegut_quoteI’ve also known people who use “the ‘f’ word” regularly in their work  because they think it’s cutting edge, and then they have the balls to say they write like Kurt Vonnegut.

They don’t.

Blindly breaking rules without understanding them is not good writing craft. Vonnegut understood the rules, and when he broke them, he did it to inject life into his work.

He understood balance and was not afraid to use it.

You want to create a balanced narrative:

  1. Information must be delivered only as the protagonists need it.
  2. The information can never be something everyone already knows.
  3. You must offer SOME information–people appearing out of nowhere mean nothing if you do not offer an explanation for them.
  4. No one will die if you use an adjective to describe an object, once in a while.
  5. Show people by using simple, general descriptions such as handsome or dark-haired, and use their mannerisms to convey their moods–things that allow the reader to form their own idea of what the characters look like and how they are feeling. But do give the reader something to build their visualization around.
  6. Stick to simple basic speech tags like said and replied, and if the conversation has only two people, skip them sometimes for a sentence or two.

I know a few authors who are like pendulums. They have no concept of balance and leave each meeting of their writing group with the notion that they have to go all or nothing when deploying information.

Thus, if they have been told they gave too much information, they go too far and now their characters appear out of the ether, with unexplained powers and do things that make no sense.

First you have to realize that no one writes a perfect, completely flawless manuscript, not even Neil Gaiman. And then you have to decide: are you writing for the critics who might be out there, or because you love to write.

If you are not writing for the joy of writing, quit now.

Otherwise, keep writing. Only by continued practice will you develop the balance you know you need. And you don’t have to be committed to only writing novels. Some of the best work I’ve ever read was in the form of short stories.

You can gain a handle on balance by writing short-stories and essays.

With each short-story you write, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition. This is especially true if you limit yourself to writing the occasional practice story—telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  • You have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.
  • You have a limited amount of space so your characters will be limited to just the important ones.
  • There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot, or affect the outcome.
  • You will build a backlog of short stories and characters to draw on when you need a good story to enter into a contest.

Go for the gusto, and try writing flash fiction–give yourself less than 1000 words to tell a story. Or really challenge yourself–tell that story in around 100 words ( a drabble):

Drake - a drabble by cjj

Drake, © Connie J. Jasperson 2013, All Rights Reserved


Filed under Humor, Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

4 responses to “Achieving balance

  1. Two tamales, yes. That made me giggle.


  2. David P. Cantrell

    Great piece, Senora.