Sunday, August 19, 2012
SPAN OF CONTROL August 19, 2012
Story elements, August 19, 2012
I’m not feeling inspired this week to present something about the male point of view in romance. I’d like to talk about writing in general. I’m going to steal an idea I learned from my MBA program and apply it to writing. It’s called span of control. The theory goes, in management, you should have no more than six people working for you directly if you want optimum results. I’ve seen this number in various texts as little as three and as high as ten. This doesn’t mean 100s or 1000s can’t work for you, but that you must establish layers of control. Each of your managers can also have six people directly reporting to them.
In writing, perhaps we should not have more than six main or memorable characters during a normal book, or six main ideas in the book. Perhaps this can apply to chapters and scenes where six elements (including twists) are introduced. Doing this should optimize the number of readers or optimize the chance they ‘get’ your story or won’t put the book down. This probably applies to back cover ideas as well. A cover would be too busy with more than six things going on.
The human mind is most efficient when handling six issues, the mind tends to break down (or spin wheels) when stretched with more than six problems, and isn’t used to its potential when under six.
For reference: This whole idea started in a seat of the pants sort of way during World War 1 when General Sir Ian Hamilton asserted, “the average human brain finds its effective scope in handling three to six other brains.” Since then much research has gone into proving the theory. Many modern books on management and psychology assert a range of six to ten rather than three to six.
So who is your average reader? Isn’t clarity the clarion call of editors everywhere? Perhaps because they know that a mass market is achieved by applying principles an average reader would enjoy and understand.
If you’re in a pitch session with an agent or editor and they worry if you have too many elements, you could spring “span of control” on them OR not mention more than six ideas supporting your manuscript.