Forget about what your high school English teachers taught you. The things that were burned into your brain, you know, the repetitive preaching about organizing your five paragraph essays and blatantly spelling out the structure to the reader.
“Firstly, Secondly, Lastly…followed by the exact point you set out to prove.”
I can only speak true of my experience and those of my fellow writing colleagues, but when I began taking Creative Writing courses in college I was in trouble. I found my creativity was stifled by the rules that were branded into my frontal lobe and I struggled to stop the bleeding before they left a scar. I was so used to being told how plainly I must organize my ideas and how sterile my words should be. Sterile? Yes, once your mind has been unleashed into a pig pen of dirty, filthy, beautiful creativity any other way does feel sterile.
Contemporary literature is moving in a completely new direction and I believe the majority of the novelty rests in the amount of weight we now give to experimentation. I have read my fair share of classics and, in contrast to what we have today, I have never seen voice given so much emphasis and play. You may have encountered the pessimistic phrase that, “everything has already been said before,” but it has never been said like this *insert your latest experimentation piece*! (Call me naïve but I like to think that there are still some ideas that have not been uttered, but I shall save that rant for another post.)
Your paragraphs do not have to be 3-5+ sentences long. You do not have to be concise with the direction you are heading in and please, do not tell us where you plan on going up front! Just typing that, I am thrilled about the freedom that unleashes.
When I interned at The Florida Review, I quickly learned that the most emphasized part of our editorial philosophy was that we truly appreciated experimental work. What is even more fun than reading one experimental story amidst hundreds of submissions, was fighting over them in our editorial meeting. Some interns would absolutely, positively HATE the piece, but then there were those that said they have never read anything more beautifully original. Our mission as artists is to strive to capture the essence of originality laced with creativity—embrace the unusual.
By far, the biggest weakness I found with experimental pieces is when the idea is lost. It is wonderful to start banging on the keys with a stroke of mad brilliance, but if it the idea is not made clear, eventually at least, the beauty is ultimately lost. Never, ever, jeopardize an idea. Experimentation is only successful and appreciated if it aids your original idea. Playing with words and structure is the most fun to read (and write) when the idea still radiates through.
I don’t know about you, but I can say that there have been times when I was struck by a sudden epiphany for my next story or script idea and after pondering how wonderful it could really be I noticed it kind of has been done before. “Oh yeah, I saw that movie last week…and it kind of had the same plot.” Damn media and its influences. What I learned in my Magazine Writing courses is that it might have been said before, but give it an angle that we have never seen, shine a light on the details we have never been told. I believe that advice rings true for writing stories as well, and how better to do so then with experimenting?
My next short story is the most experimental piece I have ever written and I could not be more excited for the journey.