Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How Off Kilter Can You Go?

There's a reason authors write the way we do - readers prefer it.  There's a set style that allows for a comfortable flow of information.  If we stray too far from that general structure, readers can quickly get irritated and put your book down in frustration.

But does that mean we can never deviate from the norm?  I think such an idea is restraining.  It shouldn't be done often, for that detracts from the effect, but if used sparingly, I think a little unconventional writing can enhance your story and get the reader even more into it.

The biggest reason to vary the way we write is to convey the right tone.  Written words are awful at getting across tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, etc.  That's why telling a story as opposed to writing one is always the preferable choice, for we can then make sure we convey the way we want it to be perceived.  We know where the proper emphasis needs to go and just how light or dark the tone should be.

Still, how to do this in our stories?

Let me again go back to one of my favorites, that master writer known as Stephen King.  King peppers his books with out of place ellipses and paragraph structures that look totally random, but when taken within the context of the novel, help set the right mood.

Most of us aren't as good as King, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.  Without experience, we'll never master this aspect of storytelling.  What I suggest is to start small - try sprinkling in italics or the occasional odd use of punctuation.  Then, give it to a beta-reader to read and see if they get your meaning.  If you have an honest beta-reader, that person will quickly let you know if you get annoying.  As you gain confidence and get more comfortable with what you want to do, you can spice up a story for publication with such things(please note that I said "spice up," not "overload with chili peppers and curry...a little bit goes a long way).

A large number of those "in the know" in traditional publishing warn against this, but I think it's because they've seen too many newbies overload their stuff with unconventional writing, so much so that it loses effect.  You want to dab a few spots into your work, not saturate it(I also believe that they're afraid of the new, which is why they shy away from it).  I won't tell you to throw caution to the wind, but if you look outside to see just how hard that wind is blowing, you might be surprised by what you can get away with, and that will make you a better writer.

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