Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Multitasking Writer - It's All About Balance

When you're writing a book, there's so much to keep track of all at the same time. You develop your characters as you advance the plot while creating atmosphere and tone, all the while making sure the characters' actions and emotions are believable and subplots make sense and that it all ties together... Would you like to join me in a primal scream right about now?

No one says you have to do any of these things, but trust me, you should at least give it serious thought. My point is that it's important to achieve balance in all areas of the story telling structure if you want to create a good book.

I remember when I first started writing fiction I knew practically none of the rules. Now that I think about it, I didn't even know there were rules (some would call them guidelines, but I didn't know those either). All I knew is that I loved to read and had my own story ideas, so voila! A book is born. I used to get so caught up in whatever aspect of the story I was writing that I failed to see how it connected, or didn't connect, to the story as a whole.

Back then, I considered myself a virtuoso at dialogue. Oh, yes, I could hear the characters talking in my head and when I got them going on the page, they were nearly impossible to stop. It's like they told the story for me. Ha! How many of you have ever felt that way? That your characters "take over"? That's the number one sign that you may not know what you're doing. But that's okay. It's how we learn. You'll have a chance to fix it, or to write a new book.

An important thing to remember as you're writing your story is that everything, and I do mean everything, must tie to your main character's story goal in some way. Adding stuff just because it's cool or interesting, even if it applies to your story's theme or location, is not going to fly. It may be considered digressive or pedestrian or self-indulgent, perhaps all three. You've heard of writers getting criticized for adding fluff and filler, right? Well, that's what happened. They took a side trip on their story journey and got lost.

Balancing your story elements isn't just about staying on track. It's about not focusing too much on any one area and neglecting the others. Take dialogue, for example. It's so "easy" (well, no, it's really not, as I learned the hard way) that you can load up your pages with a bunch of talking heads and neglect most everything else. Or you immerse yourself in scintillating description that brings tears to your eyes as your characters struggle to breathe because you've forgotten all about them. Or the action scenes are so filled with heart-stopping play-by-play details that the point of the book falls by the wayside.

See? There's lots of stuff to think about at every turn as you write your story. Some people outline their books, which I imagine is a big help. I don't, but I do prewrite to a minor extent. We all have our own processes. Just remember to keep the big picture of your story front and center and pay equal attention to every aspect from characters to plot, and everything in between.

Happy writing!


Joyce Lavene said...

Absolutely true, Karen! Sometimes I wonder how we managage, don't you?

Mary Gillgannon said...

It's a lot like juggling, isn't it? Fortunately, I'm more "coordinated" mentally than I am physically, so I can sometimes do it.

Louisa Bacio said...

But I really like the cool and interesting stuff ... please? Thanks for the reminder.

Karen Duvall said...

Hi, Joyce! Oh, yes, I do wonder that. I guess we're pretty resilient. :)

So true, Mary. I often picture the guy twirling the plates on top of skinny poles, trying to keep them all going at once. One will inevitably fall, but we just replace it with another.

Agreed, Louisa! You can still write it, but you may want to cut it and save it separately to use on your blog or in an interview after your book gets published. :)

Carla Richards said...

Sometimes I really miss when I first started and didn't know what I was doing

Karen Duvall said...

LOL, Carla, so do I! It was rainbows and unicorns twenty-four-seven. Never a crappy word dropped from my fingertips. Yeah, right. What a rude awakening. :)

Melia Alexader said...

Tying everything together is so important to remember -- and so hard, too! Thanks for the reminder.

Happy writing,
Melia Alexander

Karin said...

I would add that when you are banging out the first draft that getting your heart on the page is essential. Rewrites and editing is where the hard work of craft comes into play. Just mho, of course.