The Perfect Story: Balance

I’ve been talking about some of the attributes that I would look for in a perfect story, whether it be a novel, movie, or short story.  In particular, I’ve been discussing some of the attributes that a story should have that novice writers might not think about when they begin to compose.

One I’d like to speak about today is balance.  There are a number of ways that a story can be balanced.  Let’s consider a few of them.

1) A story can have balanced conflicts.

A well-balanced conflict is one where the protagonists do not have so much power that they can solve the conflict easily, nor do they have so little power that they are easily overcome.  In short, the protagonists should struggle to overcome their difficulties.  The conflicts should at first glance appear to be too great for the protagonists to master.

2) A story also needs to be balanced in the weight of its parts.

Frequently I see stories where the reader takes a great deal of time in the opening, trying to establish the characters and introduce the conflicts.  I’ve seen short stories where the opening is eight pages long, or twenty pages, but the rest of the tale gets resolved rather quickly—in ten pages or so.  Normally, the opening of a story should take about one tenth the length of the tale.  This should carry the reader up through the inciting incident.  Another tenth of the story might be spent in  a first attempt to resolve the problem, twenty percent in the second attempt, fifty percent leading up through the climax, and about ten percent in the denouement.  Now, these are simple “rules of thumb,” but if you’re spending forty percent of your story trying to get to an inciting incident, then the proportions are likely out of balance.

3) A story needs to be balanced in other ways.

If you’re writing from the viewpoint of multiple protagonists, then you need to make sure that none of them disappear from view and that none of them get shorted.  I’ve often seen stories where a writer lovingly details the conflicts of a male protagonist, for example, but seems lost when it comes to telling the story from the female protagonist’s point of view.  In a world where half of your readers are women, that is likely to loose you a few readers.

Just as you need to take proper care to balance how many scenes are given to your P.O.V. characters, you also must take the time to give each conflict its due.Thus, if you are trying to write a novel that is one part romance, one part adventure, then you’d better make sure that your romance doesn’t fizzle.

4) Sometimes you’ll deal with thematic elements that also can seem out of whack.

Let’s say that you’re writing about “greed as a virtue” versus “generosity as a virtue.” You as an author need to rigorously examine both sides of the argument. You can’t just kick the idea of “greed as a virtue” to the curb and then rant on and on about how ignorant anyone is who thinks otherwise.

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