Writing Tips & Tools

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lesson #10 - Proportion

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we are continuing editing lessons from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

These lessons will be shortened overviews of the chapters and by no means should be a substitute for buying the book. I'm rereading but not posting a lot of good stuff!

Let's continue with proportion, and the problems that arise from taking seemingly small details and devoting excessive amounts of time to them.

This sort of proportion problem has exactly the same effect on readers as excess description. When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your readers imagination, you're patronizing them.

This is even more true now than it was a few decades ago, when generous, detailed descriptions were the norm. It's the influence of movies and TV...readers are used to jump-cuts from scene to scene rather than long transitional shots.

Fiction writers, in turn, are much freer to use ellipses, to leave more of the mundane, bridging action up to their readers imagination. Of course there are other things that can throw your proportions off besides simple misjudgment. Sometimes proportion problems arise when a writer is writing about his or her pet interests or hobbies.

And yes, one of the joys of reading comes when a writer takes you through some little back alley of life that you never knew existed. But when we reached the three pages of how to kill and field-dress a beaver, the writer has gone too far...LOL!

So how do you avoid proportion problems. In most cases, it's quite simple: pay attention!

Most larger proportion problems can be avoided if you pay attention to your story. After all, if you spend a great deal of time on a given character or plot element for whatever reason, your readers naturally assume this element plays an important role in the story.

So if the character you spend time on turns out to be insignificant or if you never follow up on the plot element you set up in such detail, readers are going to feel cheated.

Continued tomorrow...


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