Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Story Balance

Last spring, the grass in one section of our yard failed to turn green. What we thought was dormant ended up being dead. Unable to figure out what happened, we called in an expert who explained that grass needs a balance of 50% soil, 25% water, and 25% air to thrive. The repeated heavy rain falls of the preceding months had suffocated the grass roots in this area, killing the grass. 

We live on a hill, have invested a small fortune in retaining walls, drainage systems, and sod, but the rains had been heavy and frequent, saturating that particular portion of the yard. 

Again and again. 

Lesson learned: Grass needs a healthy balance of soil, water, and air to thrive. 

Being a writer, I made the mental jump to writing. I realized that sometimes writers forget that stories also need a healthy balance of ingredients.

It’s easy to suffocate a story. Too much dialogue, you have a screenplay. Too much narrative, you have a snoozing reader. Too much plot and you have no room for character development. 

Most writers have strengths in some aspects of writing and weaknesses in others. Your goal in writing is to turn any weakness into a strength. How do you do that? First of all, you have to recognize the problem. This isn’t always easy because our beta readers may be too busy trying to be nice to speak the truth. This happened to me in a lovely writing group I attended for several years. 

Their praise made me feel good, but it didn’t help me grow as a writer. An agent who rejected my submission gave me more feedback. He responded with a nice letter explaining why he was refusing my manuscript. Of course, I had no idea agents seldom wrote aspiring writers. I was pretty good about writing thank you notes to any agent or editor who responded so I’m pretty sure I thanked him even though he pointed out a glaring weakness.

He kindly told me that while my story was well written, it needed more dialogue. In other words, it lacked balance. Which Ransom’s Bride did. The original manuscript was heavy on narrative. He suggested I revise it and let the characters talk to each other. 

Good grief. Write more dialogue! I had struggled with the dialogue I had written and now I needed to write more.

Dialogue may have been a weakness for me, but it isn’t a weakness for all writers. And many writers love to share their knowledge in books, workshop presentations, and now online classes. I got to work learning how to write dialogue.

Today I’m comfortable writing dialogue, but I’m careful not to err on the side of too much dialogue. Too much and I’d be writing a screenplay which isn’t my goal.

My goal is to maintain balance in my stories because I want my readers to walk away having enjoyed a good reading experience. 

As for our yard, we had to invest in yet more drainage to ensure that area would not be saturated during another heavy winter rainfall. We had to adjust the percentages and give the grass a healthy balance in which to grow.

Writers can create a story with a healthy balance of ingredients, too.