Thursday, October 29, 2015

Effect, Not Fun

I've been known to do a few unconventional things in my writing.  I've added a question mark to the end of a word in parentheses to denote that its status is uncertain, and I've done a few paragraphs in a different font to convey a different tone.  These things are done for the effect I hope it produces.

It's hard, though, knowing when to do such things.  Don't get me wrong - I have fun doing them sometimes, but I wish more writers remembered these things are done to help set a mood, not just for the fun of the author.  I've had more than one writer tell me, "I had so much fun doing xxx."  When I ask the reason behind doing what they did, they usually come back to me with something along the lines of, "No reason.  It was just a blast."

I'm glad you had a blast,. but the reader needs more.  Ask yourself why you're writing unconventionally.  Writing is a hard medium to convey tone, so we can use techniques to help create feelings, but that's got to be the intention.  Stephen King did this amazingly well in The Shining.  When a character's thoughts and motivations were vital to the mood he wanted to set, but weren't part of the action at the time, he set up those thoughts and motivations in parentheses.  This broke up the writing to allow for readers to catch up without disturbing the flow.

I'm sure King had a good time messing with us in this way, but he kept his focus on where it should be - when the reader needed to feel something beyond what words could describe.  It wasn't just for grins.

This is something for us all to think through, and to think through carefully.  Words are horrible at setting a mood, yet that's what we have to do as storytellers, so how can we make it easier?  Jarring things a bit can help, so long as it's not overdone, and so long as the reader, rather than the writer, is the target audience.
(After all, how would you feel being left out of a private conversation?)

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