Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Designing Devices

Since there have been writers, there have been literary devices. I'm talking about visual devices;. like when poets create a poem in the shape of a tree because that's the theme. You probably did this in sixth grade (maybe it's still hidden in a drawer somewhere.)

The savvy writer knows not to use it more than once, possibly twice in a book; or just use one device throughout the book.

One of the best I've seen is in the book New Moon, the second in the Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer. Edward has abandoned Bella and she's so devastated she 'checks' out. She's only going through the motions of living. Here is how she showed the emptiness in three chapters:


(new chapter:)


(new chapter:)


There's nothing there. Life has gone on, but it hasn't left any impression on her. I think this is brilliant.

Another example of one that is commonly used now showed up in Lauren Myracle's young adult series starting with ttyl. She uses text message language, which now is falling out of favor because of spell check which fills in the word for you, although there are plenty of people who still text "R U there?" and other assorted phrases. Inserting texting into manuscripts- along with emojis- has become as commonplace as flashbacks, unless you're writing pre-cell phone era. Many of us use not only texts, but letters, journals, news reports, etc. interspersed through our manuscripts.

One of the devices I despise, abhor, can't stand: stream of consciousness. William Faulkner does this in The Sound and the Fury. His character Quentin, who's going off to Harvard in the fall, speaks in streams of consciousness. I can't find my copy of the book so I'm going to illustrate with my own words:

I run fast I keep going how could she do that there's the fence I need to jump around it Benjy won't stop bellowing Father doesn't give a damn...

Obviously, Faulkner's words were different, but you get the gist. I don't like this device because without punctuation you have to slow your reading down to separate the different thoughts. Whole paragraphs can be quite tiring. And, as I indicated to my English professor at the time, I didn't think Faulkner used this device correctly. (Yes, I know, he's a celebrated writer and I'm not; move on.) I believe this device would have been more suited to Benjy, Quentin's 33 year old brother who is mentally disabled, with his limited communication skills and no education, rather than a Harvard man. (And I got an A on that paper.) Either way, I would never use this.

One device that I love when it's done right is foreshadowing. Too heavy a hand, and you automatically know what's going to happen or who did what. It takes skill, and any book or movie that's done right leaves you surprised. I like the use of red in The Sixth Sense. Some of you may have guessed the twist, but I didn't and in the end I was "Of course!"

Then there's the last twist before the end. One of my fave's is the alien on board the escape ship with Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien. She battles this beastie, saves the cat, and the damn thing still won't die. (I also love the fact that she was right- she told the captain not to let the guy with the creature on his face in, it violated safety/contamination protocols. And discovered that the ship's computer and the android were government 'spies' with a priority to seek out new life forms for military purposes. And that she was kickass enough to be the sole survivor.) That last twist, down to the final tense, fearful moments, made me hyperventilate.

There are so many devices to kick your novel up a level. Use them sparingly and wisely to place your story out of the crowd.

Keep writing,


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