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Balancing Acts 
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Post Balancing Acts
I enjoy analyzing things. The process of writing enjoyable fiction is something I've come to analyze more recently, even though I've been an avid reader my entire life. In trying to re-create what I find enjoyable to read, I've found that it's more difficult than it looks. A lens I've been using recently is that of a balancing act, with three different gradients. Of course, take it with a grain of salt since I'm unpublished. Or add your own flavor if you find the advice close to your own understanding.

Balancing Clarity and Obliquity

Clarity
A certain amount of clarity is necessary for broader appeal. The more clarity in your writing, the larger the audience you can appeal to. If you lack clarity, your voice will be muddled and the story will be difficult to follow. A lack of clarity will lead to your writing having friction; the sentences are more difficult to digest, and your reading pace slows.

Obliquity
Obliquity is a component of interesting writing. It is the opposite of cliche; something that tickles the more remote associations in your brain. A good metaphor is one that pulls on fresh associations, you haven't seen it used before. It is oblique, not common.

Word selection can also be oblique. The average person knows 15,000 words well enough to use them. However, the average person is familiar with nearly double that number of words; he understands the words in context, yet not well enough to use the word. Those are oblique words, unused by most people, yet understood when read or heard. A good author should have as many of these oblique words in his vocabulary as possible. They can be accumulated over time by a healthy habit of using the thesaurus.



I've found that Clarity and Obliquity are often at odds. You want sentence structure that is easy to read, but also fun to read. You want to use words that are precise, yet not overused. You want to use words that are uncommon, but not unknown or difficult to verbalize(a hiccup during internal verbalization while reading). You want to use metaphors and similes that provide vivid and precise images, but aren't cliches.

The balancing act between clarity and obliquity applies to all parts of the novel. The beginning through the end.


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Sun Aug 25, 2013 3:45 pm
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Post Re: Balancing Acts
Another balancing act in writing involves Ideas/Background versus Immediate Scene.

Ideas/Background
My name for this category will likely change. It is a bit broader than I'd like, so it's hard to encapsulate. In a typical novel, you have the background or venue in which the story is set, then you have the events that happen within that venue. Describing the venue can be done in interesting ways(and should be), but the true pull of the novel is the story itself.

An author that is too heavy-handed with background will have an entire chapter devoted to describing forests and cliffs and rivers. Lacking background, on the other end of the spectrum, leads to scenes where characters are interacting in a vacuum, without the context of history or environment to color their words.

Immediate Scene
People love stories, and that wisdom usually refers to a story of immediate scene. Things that are happening, dialogue, action. Immediate scene is the "story" that pulls the reader along. It is enabled by the venue, by the background information. One of the most common mistakes of new writers is that they don't have enough immediate scene.


The balancing act here requires the delivery of background information and concepts in an immediate scene fashion. One of the characters is a professor explaining how a wormhole can be created with a wormhole engine, and how that technology has lead to the galaxy as it is today - humanity has spread across more than half the spiral arm thanks to wormhole drives.


Think of the first three paragraphs of your novel. You want to introduce the world, introduce a character, instill a hook, and in some cases even touch on the crucible(conflict generator). There's a tremendous amount of 'stuff' you want to convey all at once to get the reader hooked, but you have to cram it all in to the first page. You need enough background information to set the scene, and it should lead to(or begin with) an immediate scene to engage the reader.


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Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:09 pm
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Post Re: Balancing Acts
Another balancing act is found between realism and suspense.

Realism
Unrealistic writing is an instant let-down. Events can follow the laws of probability, yet still be unexpected. Trying to wrestle a confrontation into a pre-determined conclusion often leaves the characters acting in a way that doesn't make sense. When you get to the point in character development where conversations start drifting away from what you've planned, you know you're on to something. The characters begin to have a mind of their own, and conversations drift in unexpected ways. But these trajectories can often be at odds with your plotting. So you need to harmonize them.

However, this component as I'm using it has to do with plotting more than with realistic characters. Events(real or imagined) are guided by causation. Reality follows rules, and good fiction mimics reality so that you can't tell the difference. Or it's close enough that you can comfortably suspend disbelief.

Suspense
Suspense is usually something you can plan. You set the scene then input characters and watch sparks fly. But all too often, the scene you imagined doesn't play out as it is supposed to. It retains the markings of fabrication. It's a stretch. Sometimes, the characters even start to agree with each other and become friends, and suspense goes down the drain.


The balance is in finding those situations that present realistic suspense. How do you set up this type of scene?


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Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:30 pm
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