Monday, November 2, 2009


I have decided writing can be like trying to perform a juggling act while balancing on a wire high up in the tent. There is so much for a writer to try and keep track of: Is the plot moving forward quickly enough? Are the characters compelling? What about the setting? Add to this worries about grammar and vocabulary and I admit (for me) the urge to let loose with a primal scream becomes almost overwhelming.

The Plot Ball

Is it a good plot is the first question I ask myself; and then continue to ask over and over. Is it logical? Are there huge holes in the action? Is my solution reasonable or will it have people hurling my book (if it ever actually exists) across the room in well-earned frustration?

The Character Ball

Are all these characters real people? Do I understand why they do and say what they do? Are there too many of them; or (good grief) are there too few? Who gets the leading roles? Who's important but secondary? Who has bit parts? Then there's the issue of the names; not too similiar to each other but not too out-of -this world either. As a reader, I get bounced out of the story line when I have to spend 10 minutes wondering 'how on earth do you pronounce that?' There's also the character-arcs to remember; what are their individual journeys? How do they evolve as the plot progresses?

The Setting Ball

First off, does it matter where this story takes place? If it does, how much time do I need to spend describing it? This is often where I find my over-flowery sentences (which earn an eye-roll and the delete key).

The Grammar and Vocabulary Ball

This (for me) is the most frustrating part of the task. I am still learning American grammatical rules, which are quite different from the rules I learned here in Canada. I have a fairly extensive vocabulary but I don't want my manuscript to read like I've swallowed a dictionary.

Perhaps I was behind the door when the juggling gene was being handed out. There are days when I think I'm doing okay, but then there are days when I'm sure every one of those balls just went tumbling onto the ground.


  1. Elspeth - Once again, this is a fantastic analogy! We writers have to juggle so many, many aspects of a plot! I'd like to add, too, the specialized "balls" we juggle. For instance, since I write crime fiction, I have to "juggle" the "mystery" ball - Is it a believable crime? Is the solution believable? Is it logical? Those things can make me feel like a juggler!

  2. I drop the setting ball all the time! :)

    Great analogy. It really does seem like a juggling act. I'm most concerned about plot and character, but if I don't get the rest of the stuff right then the book is in trouble.

    By the way, I could have SWORN I was following you! It looks like I'm senile yet again. I've fixed the problem. :)
    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. I didn't realize that Canadian grammar and US grammar were different. Interesting. (Or as you say in Canada, interesting, eh?)

  4. I love it! I wonder if the balls are different sizes, so some of them fit in the hands of different people better than others. It is my character ball that sometimes gets unmanageably large--I tend to want to write like reality, and that is too many characters for readers. I have to go back later and collapse some and just gloss over scenes that are too detailed with people.

    your verification is calling me names... dorkb *snort*

  5. Lots a lot of juggling, Elspeth. You scared me so bad that I almost burned the 9 pages of NaNo story that I've produced!

  6. I juggle these balls before I start fresh writing. Then they mostly drop to the ground and roll into the corners while I'm drafting. I pick them up again when I start editing, though I do better to concentrate on two or three at a time then until I've worked through them all.

  7. The good news is that it doesn't matter too much if you drop a ball while you're writing. You can pick them up and set it straight. It only matters if you discover you've dropped balls after you're on the stage and people/readers are watching and can see you flounder. So, if you practice and look at all the areas you listed, you can keep the balls in the air when it counts.

    Straight From Hel

  8. Margot; Oh yes, for me the mystery is a huge part of the plot ball; is it interesting? Is it logical? etc. etc. etc.

    Elizabeth; Maybe because (for you) the setting is such a tiny ball, it's easy to lose it! Although, I'm sure you never really do.

    Alan; It is different, it's to do with the placement of commas and quotation marks. Drives me slightly crazed. Don't get me started on the different spellings...

    Watery Tart; I'm glad you liked it. That character ball can become almost unmanageable, can't it?

    Alan; I'm sure you're just fine. Best of luck with NanNo.

    Carol; Preparation helps. Editing is when you find out how many times you dropped them. Fun times!

    Helen; You have a very good point, no one knows you've messed up your juggling while you're writing. As always, it's opening night when it counts.

  9. Yikes, me too! I sometimes feel like I have dropped the ball, and the next one and the next one...

    The one thing that works for me (and others may have schedules that don't allow this) is if I have loooong stretches to really work away at writing. I drop more balls when I try to do 20 min. here and 15 min. there. Give me 5-6-7-12 hours to dig in and the juggling is easier!

    Cheers, Jill
    "Blood and Groom" will be released in two weeks!

  10. Jill; Many congratulations on your up-coming release! How exciting!

  11. I like this analogy better than the baking one! Here I also have a chance :D

    I think I am reasonable at juggling characters and setting, and no one has ever criticized my (Danish) language. I can also come up with a good, coherent plot, but somehow the excitement often fades out in the middle section.

  12. I feel like that about the opening sentence of a book. Seems like that one sentence has to satisfy so many's very much like juggling.

  13. Dorte; I'm pleased this one is more to your liking. Maybe you could add an unexpected twist to the middle; sometimes that gives everything fresh energy.

  14. Stephanie; I try to focus more on the first paragraph as that makes me feel I've got more of a fighting chance!

  15. You know, these aren't the ONLY balls out there, either. Each of us is a jester in his or her way, dropping balls both unique to us and common too many. I drop more balls than I catch, but then, I have my eyes closed, because I know I'd do no better with them open. HA!

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  16. Another fine analogy. Good writing can indeed be likened to being a good juggler, and it ain't always so easy, either.

    Marvin D Wilson

  17. Galen; I knew you'd invoke the jester image. You can wear the hat with the bells.

    Karen; I have every confidence you'll do just fine.

    Marvin; It ain't easy, is it?

  18. I probably worry most about the plot ball. I THINK characters come pretty naturally to me, but the action sometimes lags a bit in the middle. I have to keep an eye on it :)

  19. Another great post!

    Don't forget that it takes time, skill, and practice to juggle. Same thing w/ writing! Most of all, have fun!

  20. Keeping it all contained by a nice tidy outline seems like it would solve the juggling problem, but what about when the story and the characters take on a life of their own and break free of the plan? I've written a post for tomorrow about that kind of craziness.

  21. Jemi; The middle can be an issue, I agree. Maybe add a surprise!

    Elisa; Thanks! What you say is very, very true. I admit it's not so fun when I'm gnashing my teeth in frustration.

    Patricia; Outlines certainly help. I look forward to your post tomorrow, because my usual solution is to listen to 'em and decide whether they have a point or they're just being ornery.

  22. Great analogy. I struggle with the Canada grammar too... that is my critique group often starts with "maybe this is a Canadian thing but..." :)
    I once wrote a post on it. Most people agreed I should stick with my Canadianisms.

  23. Carolyn; That's great if you're picked up by a Canadian publisher. My issue has been my games are published by an American company and they want American grammar. I've tried to remind them the games sell around the world, but so far, no dice.

  24. I went to school in Oregon my first two years of high school, my second two I went to school in British Columbia, so I learned under both influences. I still wonder why we do so many things so differently. Judging by your blog, I find your writing top notch.

  25. Elizabeth; I have no idea, but it's confusing. Thank you so much for your kind words. Today was a day I needed to hear something kind.

  26. Because I write (mostly) fantasy, I have a LOT to juggle! I recently finished a trilogy and am in the process of editing for the second time. Thankfully I caught all the balls before they fell, but it's a chore getting them up in the air again! Thanks for this analogy!


  27. Even all grammar is constantly changing, or seems to be to me. Like recently everywhere I look dialogue has one inverted comma instead of two. When did this change?

  28. Jen; I'm glad you liked it. I'm amazed at your imagination to be able to write fantasy. Wow.

    Lauri; I've noticed it too. When did this happen? I never got the memo.


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