One of the most important elements in any form of writing is an element that is also essential in other artistic forms. Painting, sewing, cooking, dance, video games, film, television, every other art form you can think of, at their best rely upon balance. So how can you use the, oh-so-airy idea of balance in your writing? Let’s look at a few ideas.
- What is balance?
- Balance in your characters
- Balance in your writing style
- Balance in your genre choices
- Balance in your plot points
- Balance across your entire piece
1. What is balance?
The concept of balance lines up with other words such as equilibrium, steadying and stability. The oxford dictionary describes balance as:
“An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady”
“The ability of a boat to stay on course without adjustment of the rudder.”
There are of course many further applications of the word and concept of balance, however for the purposes of writing let us examine these first two. Balance, when applied to writing, is the concept of a piece of writing both remaining ‘evenly distributed’ and ‘on course without the need for adjustment.’ As explained in previous posts, there is always room for adjustment of any piece of writing during the editing process. However, a finished piece of writing should be balanced so that it conveys its necessary arguments or plotlines without the need for a reader to add anything additional from their own experience. If an author wrote a novel based on a video game for example, a well-balanced piece would not require the reader to go and play the game to understand what the novel was referencing. To take an analogy from cooking, if you visit a fine-dining restaurant, and asked for a ‘sweet and sour’ dish, but only received a ‘sour’ dish, this would not be an example of well-balanced cooking. The same idea extends into writing, as a well-balanced piece would not need to be altered drastically to correct it.
2. Balance in your characters
The concept of balancing your characters no doubt creates a few questions: what do balanced characters look like? Can psychopath or sociopath characters still be balanced? What am I balancing the characters against? Alongside a whole host of other questions, so let us explore the notion of balancing characters against the entire idea of balance. As stated, balance in writing is the concept of presenting a piece of work which is ‘evenly distributed without the need for further adjustment.’
So then, what would balanced characters look like? Balanced characters would be characters who work together so that the character dynamics do not overwhelm any other elements of story writing. Which answers question number two: can psychopath or sociopath characters still be balanced? The answer to which is, yes they can. However, for more extreme character types you need to balance this extreme streak with another less extreme quality or another character interaction. As a writer you should look to balance one character against another, but also seek to balance the personality of a character so that various emotions or traits are equalised.
3. Balance in your writing style
Every writer has their own style, or voice, in writing. Some writers are overly poetic and descriptive, using vast amounts of adjectives. Others are more minimalist and use words like sparse currency. Given the names of authors, such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe and J.K. Rowling, you would be able to identify what writing belonged to them from among any number anonymous pieces given to you. Why? Because each of those authors has a strong and unique voice.
Charles Dickens, for example, notably uses long sentences and archaic language in his own unique and wry manner. Yet, his writing style displays a unique balance. While many writers will say that authors must not overuse adverbs, this is likely because an over reliance on adverbs overbalances the writing. The importance of any unique writing style is to make sure that the work is balanced so as to clearly convey the voice of the writer, and to convey the necessary information the author intends.
4. Balance in your genre choices
Imagine you are writing a science fiction novel. This would of course necessitate making certain choices relevant to that genre. Are you going to include highly advanced technology? Is this going to be a grounded and modern science fiction novel? Is it going to be set on Earth or space? Will it be set in the past, present or future? Will there be antagonists who are aliens, human or machine? However, the most important choice is this: how will you balance all elements so your story makes sense.
Say for instance you choose to have a time travel novel. It would be perfectly reasonable to include dinosaurs and advanced technology together in this context. However, if you decided to write a novel set in the 1800s, putting together highly advanced technology and dinosaurs may unbalance the flow of the novel. In short, simply because something is a ‘cool idea’ for your story, does not mean it is an appropriately balanced genre choice.
5. Balance in your plot points
Working out the direction a story will continue is highly important. Therefore balancing the different ways that the story will unfold becomes highly important. If you are writing your story and the protagonist must uncover who their secret antagonist is, it may become a creative plot twist to have the antagonist be the protagonist’s partner. However, such a plot twist could easily be unbalanced if not foreshadowed in advance. Remember the principle of Anton Chekhov (Chekhov’s Gun):
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
However, imagine if a writer included a sudden gun shot without referencing a rifle previously? This would be almost as bad, if not worse. So therefore, balancing the plot points of a narrative requires careful foreshadowing and only including fine details of importance. It is like if you were cooking a beef lasagne and decide to throw chocolate into the mix. If your reasoning for adding this was, ‘Because chocolate is awesome and I love chocolate,’ that may be wonderful. But why is the chocolate in your beef lasagne? The same thing goes for plot elements. There may be some twists which are wonderful and amazing, but do they need to be in your particular piece of writing?
6. Balance across your entire piece
From writing poetry, songs, essays and fiction, balance across your entire piece of writing becomes incredibly important. If you balance one element (take characters for instance), but unbalance another (such as the plot), then your entire piece may become unbalanced due to that one factor. If you built a house that needed four walls of equal height but only three were equal, then you may end up with some kind of house – but the roof will clearly be unbalanced. Your structure would be even worse if you completely missed that fourth wall altogether.
The same concept runs for balancing the writing across the entire piece of writing. You must seek to balance all elements, rather than a few here and there.Otherwise, the piece of writing could potentially fall flat. So the best way to balance your entire piece is to focus on balancing each element, with the goal of balancing the entire piece. Don’t consider each character as a single character who must be balanced – but as a balanced part of the whole piece.
Hopefully, by keeping these elements in mind your writing will end up becoming more subtle and nuanced, displaying your own unique voice as you write. Remember to write what you know, to only include details that are important, and to balance everything as you go – editing regularly.