Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Off The Wall

Sometimes, a change of pace in our novels is nice.  The same rote storytelling techniques can get our work lost in the morass of everybody else's, so changing things up can help you stand out.  I've done this with a couple of different things I've written.  Wrongful Death was the first thing I did like that when I decided to tell a ghost story from the point of view of the ghost.  I tried to break out of the box again with Homecoming, a novel written in a journal format.

However, this doesn't always work.  In fact, it rarely works.  The reason is that most readers need a grounding in something familiar.  The reason storytelling has stayed the same way for the better part of human history is that it works - it takes the reader on a logical journey where the tale progresses in a way easily understood.  Most folks get comfortable with this, and they tend to shy away from the overly out there stuff.

This is why writers need to tread carefully when choosing to do something unconventional.  Alternating between time periods, telling the story from the point of view of a death row inmate, or running a story as nothing but dream sequence may sound cool as you envision it, but you need to ask yourself if people will be able to understand it, or even more, if they'll want to.  The attention span of the average person isn't great, especially given so much more on the market that doesn't take as much to get into.

If you just want to write something off the wall for only you, then go for it.  However, if you want to write something bizarre and have other people read it, it had better be exceptional.  Don't be weird just for weirdness' sake - do it with a goal in mind.  In Wrongful Death, I wanted to be scary in a different way, and the style was necessary in order to maintain suspense.  In Homecoming, the history leading up to that point was extremely important, so it made sense to have it told by a historian.  If the style makes sense to the reader, they'll tolerate and even embrace what you're trying to do, but if it's just because you want to be an arteest, you'll quickly drive them away.

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