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WRITING IN UNUSUAL FORMATS

November 24, 2020

I wasn’t originally intending on piggybacking on last weeks article, but it slapped me in the face this week.

Why?

I happen to be reading a book that did just that.

If you want to see how being a maverick can either be genius, or shoot you in the foot, read on.

WHY DO IT?

            You’re a new, or maybe even an established writer. You want to buck the rules, break out and start something new.

            Maybe you’re emulating one of your heroes from the past.

            Maybe you simply just want to do something different. In other words, throw something at the wall and see what sticks.

            You’re gambling on starting a new trend that could either take off or fall flat.

KEEP IN MIND

            No matter what “brilliant” idea you’ve ever had, it’s all been done before.

            Published books haven’t been around to the masses for a long time, historically, but long enough that everything has been tried sometime. With that in mind, some books that have become classics because of the story, not the writing. Some became classics because there was no competition at the time of publication. Some became classics because they were re-written or edited so that they became readable.

LEARNING OVER TIME

            The publication “industry” has learned a lot over time. Publishers and agents and writers have learned what the public wants, what readers are willing to put up with, tolerate, and what works best.

            That’s not to say they won’t let authors try new things. They will, obviously.

            Like in the old days of music, the old mafia guys would take a lot of weird and unusual bands and symbolically throw them against the wall to see what would stick. That’s a lot harder for some great and unusual bands to accomplish nowadays, given the rather bland state of pop music. Not as much so with books.

            The best, and most tried and true formats for books are still the ones that sell the best because…and I have to go back to my mantra…

            The writing doesn’t get in the way of the story.

CASE IN POINT

            I just finished a book by a highly qualified writer. This is his or her first novel.

            The book has no quotation marks.

            That’s right. The dialogue is blended in with the narrative.

            I could use a series of colorful metaphors but I’ll refrain.

            I could go back to the section on the why’s, but given this author’s qualifications, I can’t even venture to either guess why he or she did this, nor why this big-name publisher let the author get away with it.

            I’ve found it to be a decent story, but one that’s not only flat and emotionless, but very hard to read. It’s jarring, and also full of other faults like tautologies and no point of view whatsoever.

OTHER EXPERIMENTS

            I’ve just about seen it all.

            One that’s particularly annoying is mixing points of view. Going from third to first to second, mixing tenses, changing from fast-paced to literary narrative. All of this in one book.

            My favorite example is that book by a Spaniard from decades ago. I never read it, of course, because it was in Spanish. What made this one weird was because the entire 200+ page book was one sentence. I’ve mentioned this example before, but that’s right. One sentence. The only bit of punctuation in the entire book was a period at the very end on the last page.

            Can you imagine trying to read a 200+ page sentence?

            That’s kind of how I feel about this very annoying book I just read, though it had relatively short chapters and scenes.

SUMMARY

            Whether this book is a one-off, or your “style,” are you ready to punish your readers or alienate half your potential readers with sone weird, or off-putting style of writing? Maybe you have some high horse or artistic “integrity” you want to stick with. Fine.

            Or, do you want to reach the widest audience possible?

            While I’m no fan of first-person, that’s just a personal choice. If the story is written well, it’s still a popular option because it can be done well, and the writing doesn’t get in the way of the story.

            As many of you know, my preference is for third limited. That’s personal taste, and it’s the most widely read and appreciated.

            Also, past-tense in fiction is my preference though some are fine with present tense. I find it unreadable and irritating, but some can write it just fine and some readers are fine with it. Once again, personal preference.

            Mixing and doing weird things doesn’t bode well for broadening your audience. Punishing them or making them work for their story isn’t a great way to introduce yourself either.

            It’s up to you, of course, but if it were me, I’d leave these weird experiments for the writing classes.

            Happy writing.

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