The Weight of Things

No, this isn’t a post about diets (though if anyone has a good one, let me know).  It’s about giving events in your novel or story the proper weight. 

Not everything that happens to your character will be weighted the same.  For instance, giving birth to a baby should have more significance than eating breakfast.  Or finding your long-lost sister should be more important than arriving at work in the morning.

I think of it in terms of two different friends of mine, both of whom shall remain nameless to protect the innocent.  One of them, who I’ll call Mary, has a flat-line personality.   Steady as she goes!  Mary talks in the same tone, rarely laughs uproariously, and certainly never cries.  Her personal affect is all on the same level.

The friend I’ll call Sarah, on the other hand is alternately loud and quiet, joyfully happy or seriously depressed.  She laughs loudly and often, and sobs at other times.  She’ll screech with joy upon seeing you after a separation, and just as likely scream at you in frustration.

Now, you may prefer to be friends with Mary, but I’ll take Sarah any day, even if she is a bit high maintenance and exhausting.  Sarah’s life is properly weighted, you see.  She reacts to the various events in her life, as opposed to just trudging along.

And this is the same way I feel about fiction.  Writing scenes in fiction is about handling multiple characters and multiple events.  And as the writer struggles to manage it all, its very easy to get caught in a sort of flat-line mode.  Then marrying the love of your life is given equal importance to retrieving the mail for the day. 

I understand this problem very well because I struggle with it all the time.   At the moment, I’m finishing up the last few chapters of the second draft of my novel, and a lot of things need to be tied up.  So lots is happening, and when I read back over my chapters, I see that I’m guilty of lending it all equal weight in my efforts to get everything in.

How to solve this problem?

Make a list of everything that happens in the chapter and give it a ranking.  I do this mentally, but you can do it on paper.  What’s the most important thing?  Assign it a 1, or an A, and go on through the list. 

Then consider how you will present the most important thing.  You’ll probably want to give it a scene, rather than exposition, for starters.  And it may affect more than one of your characters.  Your main character will no doubt be pondering the meaning of this event for at least another chapter, if not more, perhaps while she is engaging in a less important event.  And, of course, this Very Important Event will also likely be the cause of other events.

Being aware of the weight of things and writing accordingly is a key to crafting good fiction.

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