Sunday, December 16, 2012

5 Tips to Making Your Story Weirder

Originality, creativity, peculiarity, just plain freaky, are all adjectives for one thing every author wants to have: a unique perspective.

Now, to truly be a special individual with thoughts and traits that few others have assembled in the same way would actually be the definition of insanity. A person who thinks too differently than “the norm” is impossible to communicate with for those who think relatively similar thoughts. Not only would they be hard to understand, but we wouldn’t be able to relate to them, and the emotions and concepts important to the author would be irrelevant to anyone else.

But, that all being said, every writer wants to create a book that delivers something other books of similar backgrounds, settings, genres, and plots don’t. In order to do that, it has to be a little bit weird.

1. Notice assumptions.

While writing, a person makes a thousand decisions with each and every paragraph. Whether it be the word choice, what happens, why it happens, how it happens, who makes it happen, what are the consequences, where it happens, the characters, the setting, the thematic elements, and even some hugely inane choices like the color of a dress, an author can’t physically sit down and conscientiously think about each and every aspect that he is inputting.

The subconscious takes over. It fills in the blanks like a background color, putting in what it thinks “should” be there. Imagination works in a way similar to basic eyesight. We’re not actually seeing all the images, and when we need something we haven’t previously thought about, it is common for the mind to just stick in what feels right.

This is an assumption, and assumptions tend to be repetitive, personally and culturally. This means that every time the writer makes a bartender, it will likely be the same bartender as in the last book he wrote. For that matter, people in the same demographic will be likely to attribute the same traits to the same things, such as American writers putting families into suburban households versus an apartment, a log cabin, or yurt.

Recognizing assumptions can lead directly to a place that is open to creativity or simply more detailed choices.

2. Question why choices were made.

Sometimes we want something to happen a certain way. Sometimes we don’t know why we want it to happen that way. Similar as to the above, an author looking at a direction he has  taken and understanding why allows him to realize the places where change is acceptable to him.

It is common for artists to be attached to an idea. Sometimes it is legitimate and should not be deviated from. Sometimes it is a mistake and needs to be fixed. Sometimes it is only neutral and is up to the creator to utilize that fact.

While keeping in mind that many decisions we make are assumptions, it does not mean that they do not have a purpose for being there. The question becomes what that purpose is, and how important that is.
Authors tend to be attached to their original vision, even if, in reality, the original vision isn’t the best they can come up with. If the writer can pinpoint the reason why he had the original thought the way he did and can come up with why he is so attached to it, he can figure out a way to slough off the cliché parts and maintain the integrity of the thought.

Let’s say he decided he wanted to write about a girl getting transported from our world into a supernatural one. He realizes that he liked the idea that she a) didn’t know any of the rules and b) could defy the flaws of the society because she was not a part of it. Thus, he creates a setting in which the government has exiled magic and cuts off the regions that used magic, thus having a place like ours and allows her to be brought to this new culture, but still not have it be the common story that we know and love.

Of course, remember, it is your book and you can do whatever the hell you want with it, and even after realizing that you have no good reason for doing it a certain way, and nothing can be gained from doing it this way, you still have the right to do it because you’re in charge.

3. Problem solve.

The most creative choices an author will make are those that he has to make. With the big, wide, open world of imagination, anything can exist, so it’s often hard to know what should exist.

Boundaries can often illuminate more options just by cutting out others. Specific goals give a direction and a clear indication of success and failure. Therefore, being restricted by a problem, such as a breach of continuity or length issues, can give way to some abnormal techniques in which, had you been free to do whatever you wished, wouldn’t have come up.

Instead of taking the easy or more common route of removing a problem, such as cutting it all together, contending with it can lead to that which makes a story unique.

For example, say the author has a very small amount of time to say something, such as in a short film. Instead of reducing the amount of information he is trying to deliver, he gives quick snippets of shots illustrating an event instead of having long monologues and dialogues that describe it, thus creating an abnormal form of storytelling.

4. Put in details that have no apparent reason for being there.

A political rights activist said something once that stuck with me for a long time. He announced that we knew racism would be over when there would be a black man in a movie when he didn’t need to be.

The thing about minorities, women included, is that their existence tends to bring the audience out of immersion. Even though it’s only for an instant, readers look up and consider, “Why did the author make this person a woman?”

This is true for anything remotely atypical, whether it be a female cab driver or pink walls in a schoolhouse, which is an unfortunate aspect the author always has to consider. That being said, having a world where everything is just normal and is motivated seems made up.

By having your family live in an unfinished house or a character who has shopaholic tendencies risks the reader being distracted if you don’t refer to it and it doesn’t affect the plot. But not having those things is indicative of a “this is fiction” style. People often try to be original in the big picture but ignore being unique in the details.

5. Take from personal life.

Few people need to be told to do this. It is impossible to completely disregard your own life and remove all affects personal opinions and history has on it. An author is equally affected by television, books, and cultural opinions and history, which means that it is common for him to disregard the normalcy of his own life for the allegedly normalcy of others’ lives.

For instance, though he has a single mother, he might still write all his families with both parents.

This piece of advice, as all advice, should be taken lightly. Readers tend to assume that the protagonist is a secret manifestation of the author, which, fine, has been true before and will be true again for many people. (At least for their first book.) Mostly using personal details is a balancing act; we don’t want all the characters sounding like versions of ourselves, we don’t want everyone to have the same views on morality, and if the point is to make a story a little weirder, then throwing a blanket of “you” over it doesn’t help.

But we are weirder than we think we are, and noticing that, admitting that, and utilizing that allows for more interesting decisions to be made. Truth is stranger than fiction and when you have a buffet to choose from, you might as well get what you paid for.