Wednesday, December 21, 2011

16507--How Weird is Too Weird?

What in the world are you writing?  If you're a writer, you should probably have an answer for that.  You should at least be able to address it contextually if not defend against the attitude inferred by the phrasing.

When you write, you're most likely doing so with the expectation that others will be reading your words.  I know I’m not writing this for my own viewing.   As a writer then, one goal is to make the output interesting and, even further, unique.   Now for unique, I’m not just talking about avoiding plagiarism.   Rather, I’m talking about using your creativity and talent to bring something new to the reader.   If you’re writing non-fiction, present ideas in an innovative fashion.   If you’re writing fiction, get weird.

How do you know if you’re writing weird?  Well, I don’t think you can know on your own. This is why we have test readers.  Having people to help with proofing and editing is great, but I’ve long felt that evoking a reaction of “How the Hell did he think of that?” was the target to shoot for.  Cause that and you know you’ve brought something to your reader that was completely unexpected.  That's a surprise worth more gold than in the most avaricious dreams of Midas.

I’ve achieved this before and I loved it.  It says that not everyone would’ve thought of whatever it was that was written.  I’ve seen others produce ideas and stories that were so far out of any conventional box that they made me strive in my own writing.   It was experiencing that feeling that made me want to share it with others.   I believe that’s one of the great things a writer can give to others.  I feel it's a sad cheapening of the craft that some people choose to achieve this through drug use rather than the pure exploitation of odd neural connections.  I know, we've had a great deal of music and art and blah blah blah that can be directly attributed to drug use.  Of course, while there has been some staggering creativity fueled by chemical experimentation, there's also been a lot of blah blah blah.  If you're creating with your brain on drugs, will it make sense to an audience that's straight?  Will it even make sense to you?

Simply put, you don’t want to lose your audience.   Hook them with interesting, but run off on your own with weirdness and “Lost” *cough* may be the kindest comparison you draw.   If that happens, it should go without saying that you’ll be spending time rewriting.   Call it “selling out” or “going commercial”, but if your thousands and thousands of words aren’t resulting in communication with others, then you’re only writing them for yourself.   If that’s the case, you can save yourself a lot of extra work by skipping the whole publishing and marketing phases of the project.   If you’re writing for others, which I earlier offered that you probably are, then you need to write right.

Just as there are rules to telling a joke, there are rules for writing.   Your pacing has to be correct and it has to resolve in a certain way.   Most importantly, if the delivery and resolution don’t work out, embarking on a session of explanation won’t help breathe life into the corpse.   You don’t get a second chance, neither in an afterword nor by chasing down your audience door-to-door.

Put a leash on that weird.   It does you little good to let it run free.   Harness it and use its power to take you far.


  1. Another aspect of this is, how firm are genre expectations? I recently read a list of mistakes in SF writing that listed mixing in fantasy elements as a no-no. But what about paranormal elements? Which ones?
    I've always looked at acceptable levels of weird using a statistical model. The majority fit within X standard deviations from the norm, and 'too weird' is anything more than .5 past that. Basically, the publishers want something they can compare to what they already know.

  2. Yeah, those publishers have to watch their bottom lines rather than creativity level of a work. Whatever sells is what works.

    I think I've read that article you're referring to, though. Fortunately, the last item on the list says, similarly, to go with whatever works. I say this is fortunate because the novel I'm working on does exactly that: mixes fantasy into science fiction. I believe all that stuff (sf, fantasy, supernatural, etc.) can fit on a single spectrum where they can work together.

    Wish me outstanding neural firings.