Monday, August 22, 2011

Architecture and Scale

I'm now back from my holiday and, while catching up on my reading, I found this post not only interesting, but considering I posted a week's work of drawing related stuff, kinda fitting.

I've mentioned before I'm a pantser. I write to find the story. If I knew the ending before I started, well, then I wouldn't have to write it, would I?

Is that strange?

Well, in all my animation classwork, I was the same way. Guidelines were always pretty loose as long as you fulfilled the criteria, and often I would get so involved with a tiny, insignificant project, I'd end up running full-steam ahead (like usual) and tripping myself up with deadlines... like turning a 5 second squash & stretch (to show weight) assignment into a 20 second clip... thereby quadrupling the amount of work I had to do in the same short amount of time. Don't you think a pair of underwear dancing across a bedroom floor is way more interesting then a sack of flour simply walking across the screen?

But scale is important. Understanding the scope of the world, the story and the characters is as important as understanding which word is *appropriate* to use in a line of dialogue or description. A ten-year-old kid isn't going to be thinking works like 'effervescence' while watching a chemical (or magic?) reaction in a flask, even if that is the *correct* word to describe what's going on.

The problem with my dancing underwear animation was that I didn't understand scale at the time. Sure, my animation was like four or five times longer than my classmates, it was original and it made everyone laugh, but because I overextended myself, the overall quality was low. Some movements were too slow, some too fast, and in animation, even though every movement is exaggerated, it still has to look real or you won't get that suspension of disbelief. In a story, it's the same thing. If a line of dialogue or action seems unrealistic, the reader is going to notice it's just words on a page, just like badly timed movements will ultimately reduce a g-string doing the tango with a pair of boxer shorts to a blur of clumsy pencil lines.

That's what happens when you lose perspective and concentrate too much on one aspect... you sacrifice other parts and you end up with a lower quality piece in the end. Every writer naturally has things that come easy and things that come hard. All of us are imbalanced, and our stories reflect this.

Go read that article and think about your own story. Have you skimmed over things like setting 'cause you like writing dialogue? Do all your character's voices sound the same? Are they using appropriate words when they speak? How is your timeline, do things happen realistically slow/fast depending on the action or situation? Are there 50 references in the first ten pages describing what your two main characters look like, but do they inhabit a *white-room* world? If you can't dig into your story and find your own weaknesses, find a beta-reader who will.


  1. Thank you very much for this. I've saved the link. Dancing underwear sounds funny :D I'm just thinking bout plotting for my six character series so this was very timely. One reason I love meeting new people - like you - in blogs is I learn so much

    As I've mentioned previously - wait I just got confused - I thought you have story first then characters? I have characters first and then story - I think
    ok now I am totally confused - anyway - thanks

  2. Hmmm... I see a character in a setting first... like watching the opening scene of a movie. From there, I just have no idea where it's going, 'cause it'll just be that one scene in my head... and I wait for the next one, then the next... and sometimes they come out of order, which can be really confusing :) The more scenes I see/write, the more I learn about the character and what's going on.

  3. Excellent questions in the last paragraph to keep in mind while writing...

  4. @ Amy, I'd have to give my beta-readers/writers group most of the credit for helping me find my own weaknesses :) ...but then I'm the kind of person who learns more from a slap on the face than a pat on the back :p

  5. I've always struggled with discriptions, I'm terrible at them, which is strange for such a creative person, I should be able to describe what I see in my mind. My problem is vocabulary, mine is oh so limited.

  6. @ The Intern

    When you are used to working in one medium, swapping to another is hard... like, if you usually paint using a digital painting program, switching over into something that leaves no room for error (like calligraphy with ink and a chinese brush) can be incredibly frustrating. I think it's the same with finding out, and fixing your own writing weaknesses... it just takes practice and everyone's going through the same thing :) Good luck!

  7. I write dark-and-twisty baroque (think: Virginia Woolf takes on 1984), and acid-trip fixation on details has derailed me more than once. You made it visual with the dancing underwear.

    Another peril: narcissistic minor characters. They can convince their author that they're really fascinating, at the expense of the main story. Thank heavens for a ruthless beta-reader with sinewy prose style, who noticed the structure problem right away. The second set of eyes is invaluable.


Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)