Balance the Scales
The literary scales, that is. I remember reading short stories and essays in school where the author would juxtapose some of the elements of the story at various points, maybe taking the same situation and changing it to show the progression of the narrative or using a similar turn of phrase once the story has changed the meaning of it. I loved those juicy tidbits. They always seemed clever to me.
It can add that to longer fiction as well. Using balance in stories can make two dimensions into three, giving readers new investment in where the story’s going. Here’s the blurb from The 25:
Creating a sense of balance in your piece is similar to creating unity (see the opposite page), but the repeated element is even more obviously connected to its earlier use. A classic example: In The Great Gatsby, as F. Scott Fitzgerald introduces us to the Buchanans in early summer, he emphasizes the breeze blowing through the room, billowing the curtains and the women’s dresses. Later, the same characters seated in the same place are shown in the heat of summer as weighted down, dispirited, languid. The connection between these descriptions creates balance and gives the reader a keen (if not necessarily conscious) sense of progression. It also implies that the characters are no longer free and airy, but encumbered by the circumstances that have arisen.
Set aside 30 minutes to reread your work, looking for a description, scene or metaphor that you can repeat later with some aspect changed to serve as a counterweight to the first usage.
I finished my first attempt at flash fiction yesterday right before I went to work, and that was one element I tried to stress. I bookended the story with certain imagery, and through the story, the imagery changed. Became ironic. I like it a lot. I had my husband read it when we got home around three in the morning last night, and he reacted very well to it. He’s not a big reader — he has a hard time focusing on longer works, so I was happy to provide him with something short and sweet to get a taste of my writing. Most of what I write makes him shudder with its length.
Two important things happened: the end surprised him, and he loved the balancing imagery. Those were the two things I was trying to accomplish with the story, so I feel quite proud. Bully for me. I seldom write short fiction. I like the freedom of having a few hundred pages to develop story and characters. I tend to be verbose. The stories I hear floating around in the ether seem to be the really long ones most of the time, so I haven’t really made any attempts to write short fiction or publish it. Successfully finishing a piece (even a dinky 1,000 word piece) feels like a tremendous accomplishment for me. I’m awfully excited.
But I digress. Back to balance. The example Heffron uses from The Great Gatsby is an excellent one. It shows both the surface evolution of the setting (from breezy to hot and stifling) as well as the deeper, more symbolic aspects (the characters’ depression and perhaps hopelessness and stagnancy). I am definitely going to make more attempts to create such things in my novel during revision.
My protagonist starts out the novel pretty carefree. She’s headed home to her parents’ house to take care of their cats while they’re on vacation, and she can’t wait to curl up in front of the fireplace for the weekend and watch her favorite shows. As she walks to her car, she clomps her winter boots on the asphalt. She likes doing that. Big heavy boots, big clompy noise. Clomp, clomp, clomp.
I think I will add a blurb a year later (the book spans about a year) of her walking in a strange place, unfamiliar and foreign, with boots that still clomp, but instead they feel leaden and heavier than she remembered. Her character goes through a lot of things that create gravitas where her carefree attitude once was. It might come back again at the end of the trilogy, but book one is her breaking period in a lot of ways. Which isn’t to say she’s a horrible whiner or anything, just that she hasn’t quite learned to deal yet.
Balance. As characters and stories develop, showing the end result (or a snapshot of their progression) can make the narrative more cohesive and tie events together. It can create reader investment, keep them turning pages to see where it goes from there or wrap things up. Plus, it’s fun. 🙂
On a concluding sidebar, you lovely gentle viewers have pushed my blog past 1,000 total views. Wow! I looked today and was ever so excited. Thanks for stopping by, as always. I appreciate you all listening to the meanderings of a fledgling author. You can have one of my feathers if you want it.
Posted on October 22, 2011, in primeval, the silver thorn chronicles, writing process, writing progress and tagged 1000 views, balance, emmie mears, fiction, progress, revision, the 25, writing, writing process, writing techniques. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.