Chapter 4 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

In this chapter of the book we get a topic that I have never actually read about before, but that makes extremely good sense. The idea is that you should focus on what’s important to either advance the book’s plot or establish character. The book summarizes this with the word “proportion.”

This very simple idea is pretty easy to forget when you’re in the moment of writing and you find something great to add, or want to include a bit of research you’ve done. The book especially warns about focusing too much on unimportant actions and pet topics and hobbies.

Here are a few excerpts:
–“The time spent on a relatively minor point has thrown the scene out of proportion.”
–“When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your reader’s imagination, you’re patronizing them.”

The solution to this problem, according to the authors, is to pay attention. Notice what you spend a great deal of time on. Anything that is focused on for very long will create an expectation in readers. If it doesn’t end up being important later on, readers will be disappointed.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to set the book aside for a little while and then come back to it. Approach it as a reader, not a writer. This will give you a fresh perspective on the content and will help you see what things are out of proportion. You may also discover that parts of the book that are small might be worth expanding on.

You can also use proportion to create tension or surprises. If you spend less time on something at the start, and then make it important later on, it can give a nice twist to the element and plot.

The authors also note that you don’t have to cut EVERYTHING that doesn’t relate directly to your story, but anything you add or leave in should somehow add to the story in a way that resonates with the rest of the story.

As far as description goes, and avoiding too much detail to throw something out of proportion, allow your viewpoint character’s interests to control the amount of description. Only devote the amount of attention to something that your character devotes to it.

So, there you have it. Proportion. It’s a tool. Use it wisely.

Next up: Dialogue Mechanics. Oooooh!


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