Thursday, October 16, 2008

Balance the Missing Ingredient - Part 2

Part 2 - Balance the Missing Ingredient

by Donna Sundblad

Don’t Digress

Study your manuscript. Have you skipped important details readers want to know while expounding on minor details? Don’t paint the picture of characters loitering at the diner at the truck stop if the characters inside don’t play an important part in the story. Although the interaction between the waitress wearing the bright lipstick and the scrawny truck driver puffing on a cigarette at the bar may be well-written, if it doesn’t matter to the story, it needs to be eliminated. What the reader needs to know about is what is happening in the parking lot? If your protagonist wasn’t able to change the tire and walks to the truck stop nearby does she find trouble or help in the parking lot? Don’t get sidetracked by unimportant details. It waters down the tension. Take out the unnecessary diner details and spend the time outside in the parking lot. I’m not saying every diner detail, just the unnecessary. Draw attention from the diner to outside through the window. Show apprehension on the face of the man looking out the window. Is he the one waiting for the woman in red or a hero waiting to rescue her? Expand pertinent details to keep the pace moving.


Pacing or the timing used to move your story forward is accomplished through the use of dialog, incidents, and anecdotes. Using the above example, imagine tires of a black pickup truck squealing into the parking lot of the diner. Headlights spotlighting the middle-aged woman struggling up the ramp into the parking lot offers detail to move the story along. The reader knows the main character hoped to meet a potential love interest here. What happens next? That’s what you want to know and it’s what you want your readers to ask.

“Hey, pretty lady, you look like you need some help.” The burly man stroked his full, tobacco-stained beard like a pet.

“No, no thank you.” She smoothed her hand across her greasy midsection. “My friend is meeting me here.”

Dialog moves the story along. Could this guy be her suitor, or is he a treat? The tension mounts. Dialog should accomplish something. Use it to show the characters’ personality or shine light on information previously unknown. To ensure balance be sure not to force information into dialog in an unnatural way, or allow characters to uncharacteristically perform actions just to make your plot work.


Transitioning from one subject or setting to another requires a connecting link. If the story thrusts the reader into a new setting without warning, and confuses them. It leaves them asking, “How did they get there?” and distracts them from the real story. A transition connects scenes. Even if it is one sentence long, a transition adds continuity and logic to the flow of the story.


Another type of balance is the balance of sentences. Have you ever read a story aloud and tripped over words, or went back to reread because something didn’t flow? Vary the length of sentences. Mix up the length of words used. Read your work out loud and listen. Does the story flow?

Imagine the details of your story to be sand in an hourglass. Each detail is a grain of sand. The top end of the glass contains conflict and tension, which transitions and leaks into the second half of the story. A consistent flow of particulars trickles into the bottom of the hourglass, where each grain of conflict mingles with pertinent details forming an interesting pattern that presents a satisfying resolution. That’s the missing ingredient. The balance of details as they flow and mingle without stopping.

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