Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 4, Proportion by B.Y. Rogers

(If you are wondering what ‘proportion’ has to do with writing, think of it this way. How much do I give to my readers in any scene? Do I give them too much or too little? Then ask yourself this: too much or too little of what? Information related to the plot? Did I take 5 pages to write something that should have been written in 3?  At least that is how I am defining proportion. Your mileage may vary.)

Proportion problems…arise from the same lack of confidence  that leads beginning writers to describe emotions they have already shown.

When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your reader’s imagination, you’re patronizing them. (AMEN!)

Sometimes proportion problems arise when a writer is writing about his or her pet interests or hobbies. (This is why I mention taking too long to say what needs to be said. Taking 5 pages to show what you want to convey, instead of 3 pages, will bore your readers. There is a great example of this on page 68 of the book, oh, wait… sorry, you haven’t purchased your own copy yet have you?  Tsk, tsk.)

You didn’t read the whole paragraph did you?  (this is from the book. No I didn’t. I was bored by word 11. Again, get the book!)

Proportion problems can arise inadvertently, sometimes through cutting.

So how do you avoid proportion problems? In most cases it’s quite simple: PAY ATTENTION.

A warning: paying attention to your story does not mean ruthlessly cutting everything that doesn’t immediately advance your plot.

Is it really needed? Does it add? Should it be shorter/longer?

Bear in mind that most readers may not find such topics as interesting as you do.

Once you have trained yourself to see how changes in proportion affect your story, you can begin to use proportion to shape your readers’ response to your plot. (Read this post and pay attention to what you want from your readers)

The safest approach is to make sure the material you’re writing about helps advance either your plot or your narrator’s character.

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