Proportion is pretty simple - your passages need to be balanced. Follow up lengthy descriptions with short ones, or try not to have too many long conversation-heavy scenes in a row.
Now that I've defined things a little bit, let's move on to this week's checklist! As my mother would say, "It's a big'un, Jase."
- Are the details in the scene the ones that your focal character would notice? Not everyone would see the discarded matchbook in the gutter at the scene of a crime, or know the name for the specific cut of a man's suit jacket. If Desmond sells produce at a farmer's market, he might not know what key a song is in on the radio ... unless, of course, his dear girlfriend Molly is the singer in a band, in which case, he might. You have to know your characters, and know what they would know. If they wouldn't know or notice something, you shouldn't show your reader! Leave it for another character who might, in a later scene.
- Is character development proportional to its influence on the plot? Simply put, if one of your minor characters has a gigantic revelation about the direction his life is taking, he's going to steal the spotlight from your protagonist ... and maybe that spotlight should have belonged to them all along. Keep your Big Moments saved away for the characters and events that have the most bearing on your plot, and you won't confuse your reader into thinking they should've been rooting for Red-Shirt Guy the entire time.
- Are tangents effective - OR, if you don't have any, do you need them? You could have a great idea for a small vignette involving one of your minor characters wrestling with flying a kite in the park, to break up the melodrama of the nasty divorce you've been focusing on for the whole chapter, sure. But unless there's some way you can make that kite crash recklessly to the ground and tie it, thematically, to the mess you're writing around it, or have the peace of the scene be a direct contrast, it might not belong where you're putting it. As far as needing tangents, try picturing your passage in the frame of real life to see how it plays. Rarely, people stay on the same topic when they're having a conversation. If April and Jon have been talking about the placement of bruises on a victim in the morgue for two pages straight, they should probably shift gears and start wondering what they're going to have for lunch (it's okay, they do this all the time, they have stronger stomachs than we mere mortals). I apologize if this explanation is a little vague or muddy - judging the effectiveness of your tangents is likely to be an instinctive thing. If you aren't sure if it fits, ask a friend or beta reader to give you their opinion.
- Don't overdo personal hobbies. Sure, one of the best ways to give someone depth is to give them a hobby. One of the protagonists in my second novel, Troy, was an Eagle Scout ... but he's not going to refer to that every chance he gets. Not every detail he sees or conversation he has ties back to a merit badge, or a camping trip, or something he did for the community. It's a handy way to explain how he might know some things (as in that first checkpoint above), but if I beat that detail into the ground, it's going to draw focus away from what's really going on, and more importantly, annoy my reader. Never. Annoy. The Reader!
- Is there a balance between long and short passages? This one's pretty self-explanatory.
- Does chapter length vary to good effect? If all your chapters are exactly twenty pages in length, you may not realize it, but you're making your writing monotonous. Unless, of course, you are of the school of folks like the late, great Terry Pratchett, and don't believe in chapters. In which case: "Hey, that's just, like, your opinion, man."
- Well-spaced? If you place beat after beat after beat, it would be like saying "Look at this. Okay, now this. Now this!" and not letting the reader have space to actually see what you're telling them to look at. Sometimes, for the sake of tension or speed in a scene, you can do this to convey a sense of urgency (an emergency room is a good example), and your reader can double back and re-read if they need to. But mostly, you don't want to make them revisit much. You want to keep them moving forward.
- Not mundane? Remember last week's green checklist, when we touched on trusting your reader to know the basics? This is pretty much the same thing. Don't tell them how he opened the bag of bread, took out two slices, and put them in the toaster, just say he loaded the danged toaster. (Blogger's Note: If you're doing this to up your daily word count for something like NaNo, that's your cup of coffee, as long as you edit it and pare it down afterward, for the love of literature.)
- Character Cues/Details? As often as possible, the way your character does things should reveal something about who they are, so that you don't have to just up and tell your reader at some other point. Remember the orange list?
- Rhythmically sound? The best way to test this is to read it aloud and see how it feels and sounds. Do it in your car, in your bathroom at home, in a soundproof recording booth, or even in the middle of a bus if you're not super-self-conscious like yours truly. If you stumble over a certain part, you might need to consider fixing it.
That about does it for this week's checklist - and look at that, I made it through with a minute to spare. Pardon me while I run like a coordination-challenged gazelle so that I can make it to work on time. Next week is all about one of my personal favorites: dialogue! It's gonna be a fun one. Until then, keep writing, keep reading, and keep on rockin' in the free world.