Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Just a Little Lower on the Right

One of the first things a design student learns about is balance. In every work of art, whether it’s a painting, a sculpture or the way accessories are arranged on a fireplace mantel, there has to be balance. Some think that symmetrical balance is the way to go every time, but I prefer asymmetrical. It’s much more interesting to look at, not to mention the challenge involved in achieving it. I always enjoy a challenge.

This Degas painting is a good example. The water pitcher on the left keeps the painting from feeling weighed down on the right, giving it asymmetrical balance. It’s all visual perception, and I’m sure there are some people that don’t notice some of the subtleties involved. I’m a very visual person, so for me, this has always been a relatively easy concept. Writing is a different story. Yes, I noticed the pun.

Balance in writing, while just as necessary as balance in art (Calm down. I’m not saying writing isn’t a form of art.), is harder to achieve. At least, I think it is. There’s so much more to balance. Consistent pacing is extremely important and probably one of the most difficult things to accomplish--making sure the slower parts still have an appropriate level of tension and that those are balanced by faster/more intense parts and vice versa, and maintaining the same pacing throughout 80,000 words or more. And characterization--making sure our characters aren’t too one-sided, and that they don’t have the happiest or crappiest lives ever. There has to be some good with the bad. The concept can even be applied to something as simple as sentence structures and not relying too heavily on any particular structure.

This is what keeps it interesting. That’s what we’re going for with our writing, right? The ability to write something others will find interesting and maybe beautiful and want to share with their friends?

So what things are hard for you to balance in your writing? And how do you find that balance? Is it something that comes naturally? Or do you have to work at it and do a gazillion rewrites before you get it where it needs to be?

And did I use the word balance enough times? Here’s one more for um, balance. :)


  1. Great post! I love the "happiest or crappiest lives ever." I laughed out loud :P, because it's so true.

    I think the most challenging thing for me isn't making my Evil characters 100% Bad & Not Nice. Who wants to read about someone who is evil all the time? Don't we love villains more who we can sympathize with? Which makes it all the more dramatic when our hero is trying to defeat them.

    I would prefer Lex Luthor to a mustache-twirling "nyah, nyah, nyah" character any day.

    And dammit, that's hard to do.

  2. Great post, Abby!

    I agree, it's all about balance--whether we're conscious of what's doing the balancing or not.

    For me, it's making sure I put what was playing in my head correctly down in the computer. I can see the subtle nuances, but I need to make sure they're visible enough for the reader to. :D

  3. Dude, I love Degas. Yes, I have depth sometimes. :)

    Balance in writing, um, I'm not sure I've ever thought about this. I'm going to stew and maybe I'll come up with something.