Jun 21 2008
This article will help you identify and eliminate potential gimmicks in your writing. For example, Gadsby was written without the letter ‘E.’ This is the ultimate gimmick, an attempt by an author to try something new that ends up rubbing readers the wrong way. Remember, you’re writing a book, not playing Scrabble.
If you have a “cool” idea for how to write a book or story, ask yourself whether the idea’s value is worth the intrusion it will impose on readers. Try to make the pitch to a potential reader. Will they appreciate the novelty? “I’ve got a story that’s told from the supervillain’s perspective!” is probably going to interest readers more than “I’ve got a story without the letter E!”
One area of writing that’s particularly prone to gimmicks is the use of characters and narrators. “What if I write a main character that’s a dragon?” That might actually be interesting… assuming your dragon character is worth our time. If, on the other hand, your “dragon” is pretty much interchangeable with a human, then what’s the point? It would astonish you how many manuscripts I’ve read that have dragons that can polymorph into humans.
In narration, many authors have attempted to write stories from the perspective of someone that’s dead, hasn’t been born yet, or is in a completely different time period than the action of the story. When you decide your narrator(s), you must ask yourself what does this add to the reading experience? What will readers get out of reading a book that has X as a narrator or Y as a stylistic choice? If your answer even hints at the word “new” or “fresh” or “cool” or (worst) “neat” you probably have a gimmick. A genuinely wise style choice is typically sound because it somehow adds to the reading experience, not because it is new.
For example, I think that writing a story from the supervillain’s perspective adds something because because supervillains are generally more three-dimensional than the heroes and they are always the ones who control the plot (it’s always Superman responding to Lex Luther rather than vice versa). Also, giving us the supervillain as the main character virtually guarantees some degree of moral complexity.