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The Art of Compromise

Possibly this is related enough to the Puzzle Pieces section that I should just splice the two together, but I feel like this is a separate enough subject that it deserves its own page.

There are very few professions in life that don't require compromise between competing goals. Accounting definitely does. It's generally a kind of common sense thing, but you can't track every aspect of any business to the penny without spending an exorbitant amount of money. Alternatively you could spend nothing on your accounting function, but you'd probably end up with no idea of what was actually happening, and eventually your luck would run out and you'd end up bankrupt because you didn't have the information required to make the right decisions.

I don't think writing is exempt from the law of compromise. There are a number of different things that can make a book or a story good, but you're never going to be incorporate all of them at their highest level in one single book.

I can all but hear people getting up in arms about this one, but if you'll stick with me for a few minutes I'll explain why it is I feel the way I do.

Essentially some of the desired qualities are at odds with each other. Setting and characterization for instance if taken to their logical conclusion would completely destroy the pace of a book. Maybe destroy isn't the right word, but in order to write something that perfectly hits the spot for readers who live and breath characterization you're going to have to slow the pace of the book down to the point where you'll lose some of the other readers out there who demand that their books move along at a fairly respectable clip.

Alternatively if you go out and write a book that's perfectly paced, you're never going to win any awards for your characterization.

The trick isn't to try and include every single writing element into any given book at it's highest level, but rather to make the right compromises. I think when you really get down to it, that's probably what separates the truly great writers from the rest of us. They've done an excellent job with a couple of aspects of the book, and then they've made the right compromises to arrive at the best possible end product. Sometimes those compromises make the thing they're weak at not quite as strong in their book so as to emphasis their strengths, and sometimes they trim back the thing their book has plenty of in order to shore up the area where it's lacking.

You could probably argue the other side of any particular decision made by almost any author, but the ultimately it's the author's decision to make, and the fact that you've read it in the first place probably means that they did more right than wrong.

As you're judging your own work or critiquing someone else's I think it's important to keep that concept in mind. Things like characterization, plotting, pacing and setting are all important, but I think there are probably other aspects of writing which don't get as much press, but which take skill and ultimately drive readership and book sales.

I won't get into them all here, but if you're ever curious the quickest way I've found to start identifying them is look for a story which sold incredibly well but which you're told time and time again is a terrible piece of writing.

Ultimately we all write for our own, unique set of reasons, but part of the key to improving is to learn how to make the right compromises and identifying ways to find compromises that accomplish more than you might have thought they could.

Copyright 2009 by Dean Murray

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