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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Finding Balance

When someone says the word 'balance' we tend to think of checkbooks or standing on one foot. It doesn't conjure up an immediate image of writing, probably because writers usually say "pace" or "plot element" and the word balance doesn't enter into the equation. I want to change that today and look at the two types of balance you need to make your writing work.

Balancing Your Book
How often have you read a book where the pacing seemed to drag half-way through? Or maybe you finished a book and wished the author had invested a little more time in settling the characters emotions, building the world, or addressing the overall theme. These are books that lack balance.

Very few books are perfectly balanced. A book that addresses every need of the reader and appeals in a near-universal way is the very rare. But most books get the balance just about right, they might lean a little to one side or the other - creating genre fiction - or they might address several topics and go mainstream (yes, I can think of exceptions too, every rule has exceptions- we're saving that for another post). The imbalance works but ONLY IF THE AUTHOR PLANNED IT.

Write your first draft carefree. Indulge in the every creative whim. Bask in the heady freedom of imperfection. And then sit down and decide what you, manipulative and sneaky person that you are, want the reader to feel. Pick and choose the themes and emotions of the book the same way you could complimentary colors of a room. Balance times of intense action with places to read.

As a general rule, any constant emotion maintained throughout the whole book is bad.

If the MC has only one emotion the whole time, the reader stops reacting to it, they stop empathizing. You have to strike a balance between moments of fierce action and quieter times of contemplation. Even an exceptionally serious book should have a few light-hearted moments, times of laughter that add light to the book and thus accentuate the darkness of the text.

Balance your book by planning.

Balancing Yourself
I can see the looks, what does a balanced author have to do with writing?


An unbalanced author can't create a balanced piece of writing. Call it the holistic approach to writing if you like, but your work in progress is not a static thing existing in isolation. A manuscript is a living document, it grows, matures, changes... and it can only have a full life if you, the author, have a full life.

Life experience is what you use to create your masterpiece.

Good health is what allows you to write.

Free time to create is what binds the experience to the bind and let's you rearrange the universe for your own pleasure.

Yes, I hear you. "Very metaphysical, I'm sure," you say. "But what does that mean in real life?"

It means there are three aspects of reality you need to balance to be the best writer possible:

1- You need to experience things. Travel, try new foods, read books outside your genre, talk to new people. Whether you experience something yourself or you experience something vicariously by reading or listening to a story, or even just taking time to daydream you are broaden the pool of ideas you can pull from for a story.

2- You have to take care of yourself. Dead writers do not get manuscripts finished! To many people push their health to the last thing on their chore list. You'll see a sick person in the office or washing dishes at home and they'll work 'til they drop. Why on Earth would you do this to yourself??? You won't be any good to anyone or for any cause dead. Get eight hours of sleep, eat a balanced diet, work out a few times a week, and keep yourself from keeling over dead.

3- Make time for writing, but don't sacrifice the other two elements for this time. I promise you, there is something in your day you really don't need. And that sacrificial 30 minutes is not breakfast for bedtime. You need to experience things, but you don't need to watch the CNN replays for three hours. You need to take care of yourself, but three hours a day in the gym is a bit much. Keep some scrap paper and a pen handy for scribbling down ideas, and make time every day to write.

This might mean you spend an hour Monday night's writing, but only fifteen minutes on Tuesday because Tuesday is rock climbing night. That is OK. Some nights you might finish a chapter, other nights you might only scribble down an idea or two and make a loose outline. As long as those ideas are pinned down where you can find them later, it doesn't matter. Give yourself time and permission to write.

Rock photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/23873129@N08/2418418347


  1. Nice topic and one that can make all the difference.

    On another note, I had to laugh when I saw the frog. That's exactly what Myles looked like, blue stripes and all. :)

  2. *looks guiltily at writing/life balance*

    I'm working on it!

  3. What a great post, Lei! Thank you! I love the part about making sure your character is balanced in their emotion. I think Nick needs to laugh more. :)