Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Be Dinstinctive...But Not Too Distinctive

Sometimes, we outsmart ourselves when we write.  We can be so eager to stand out that we try to experiment, and much like with Frankenstein's monster, our experiment goes horribly awry.  In that same vein, we keep shoving more and more into that experiment, so it grows into a catastrophe so large that no one can control it.

I've seen writers who flout the rules of writing and try to get overly creative.  A good friend of mine handed me something where he peppered entire pages with nothing but punctuation.  He thought it reeked of off the wall humor and created a jumbled mood that would throw off the reader.  Well, he sure as hell threw me off...so much so that I put the book down entirely.

You're not original when you toss in random exclamation points or write only four words per page.  What you create instead is a confusing mess that no reader can follow.  Sure, some writers can get away with the occasional bizarre formatting technique, but these are the exceptions.  They're masters of their craft, and they've honed these techniques to create a specific effect.  They also never go so far afield that no one knows what the heck they're saying.

This isn't to say I haven't tried these kinds of things myself.  I've been known to try and put one sentence into three or four lines, each separated by ellipses.  I thought this made it look cool and created suspense by increasing the time/space interval.  When I went back and looked at it during editing, it just seemed stupid.

There's a reason the traditional formats of novels work - the readers are used to them.  These formats present a logical flow for the reader to follow.  Sure, he or she may grant the occasional license to stray from these boundaries, but only in limited circumstances.  Writers who know how to do this usually only do so in carefully controlled instances, thus leading to greater effect.  Unfortunately, novices will do this at the drop of a hat.  It's the difference between Picasso and a six-year old - one can use format to create cubist impressions, while the other splatters finger paint on a piece of paper and tells everyone he just drew a deer.

Be careful when you stray from the norm.  It can work, and it can be awesome, but done simply for grins, it makes a mess that no one can clean up.

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