Saturday, April 6, 2013

"E" is for Effect...And most people missed it!

Yesterday, as part of the A to Z blog challenge; I purposely skipped the letter "E" and went straight to "F" - and no one noticed. At least, no one said that they noticed. I even tweeted about it, with zero comments.

So, either no-one's reading or no one thought enough about it to say anything. Maybe you thought I had a temporary break from usual pedantic logical self. Not too far fetched, if you really know me, but not the case.

Maybe you found my Fabulous Friday of Musical Fare more entertaining - also unlikely. My Blogger Dashboard shows plenty of traffic yesterday. My Twitter Feed indicates some of you really do read my blather. So what gives?

I can only think you found other fodder on the blogosphere more tempting and comment worthy. And that's OK! I pulled my alphabetical slight of hand for effect, not for numbers and feedback. Because really, as writers, words and punctuation are the only means we have to deliver effect.

I worked with a critique partner a little while ago who didn't get my use of either - I had to drop her eventually. I have my own style, my own means of pacing both the scene and the story, and she was a grammar/punctuation virtuoso who could not cope with my purposeful warping of style. Don't get me wrong, she was very nice, very intelligent. I did garner some excellent feedback from her, but she absolutely could not comprehend why someone would voluntarily bend or break the laws of grammar.

Here's an example. This is a paragraph from my latest WIP, as I wrote it:

        I grab the trash can and start emptying the guac into it. It sticks to the bowl, congealed. Solid. I bang it against the side of the can, but it won’t come out. I throw the entire bowl in the trash. I grab the tuna casserole, look at the glass dish it came in and throw it in the trash on top of the guacamole. I grab the mac and cheese, the salad, the soup and the pie and the jam and the mayonnaise and I throw it all in the trash.
I hear glass breaking and I’ve missed the can and I’m standing in a pile of broken glass and food and bits of foil and plastic wrap and I’m throwing everything in the trash and the tea kettle’s whistling and I can’t stop yelling, screaming, cursing, calling him names and swearing at him and asking him why? Why did he leave me? Where did he go? Why couldn’t he take me with him? How could he leave me? How could he go away and leave me? Why can’t he come back? What do I do now? What the hell am I supposed to do now? How could he do this? How could he be so fucking selfish? I hate him! I hate him! I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care if I never see him again. Where is he? Where is he? Oh God, I need him and he’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone.

Hopefully, at this point your stomach is clenched, your breathing a little faster and you are seriously emoting with the main character.

Now, here is the same paragraph, as she corrected it:

      I grab the trash can and start emptying the guacamole. It sticks to the bowl, congealed and solid. I bang the bowl against the side of the can, but it won’t loosen. I throw the bowl in the trash. I pick up the tuna casserole looking at the glass dish it came in. I throw it, too in the trash, on top of the guacamole. I grab the mac and cheese and the salad, then the soup and the pie and finally the jam and the mayonnaise, throwing all in the trash with the other items.
I hear the sound of glass breaking. I’ve missed the can and now I’m standing in a pile of broken glass.  Food and bits of foil and plastic wrap lie all around me. I was throwing everything in the trash and the tea kettle started whistling.  I couldn't stop yelling.  I was screaming and cursing.  I was calling Jamie names and swearing at him.  I was asking him why he left me? Asking where he went and why couldn’t I go with him? 
        I wanted to know how he could have left me and why he couldn't return to me. I kept asking what I should do now? I hated him at this moment. I didn't care that I would never see him again, but at the same moment I knew all I wanted was to see him again. 

A little flat, right? I mean, not horribly - you still get the intent and the drama, but you lose that emotional gut-check on her sanitized version. And at this point in the story, I need you to have that feeling. I need you to be completely absorbed in the main character's emotions. The story doesn't work without it.

This is the difference when you write for effect - when you consciously choose specific grammar, syntax and punctuation to create the emotional mood or element the story needs. 

In this case, I needed the reader to connect to the main character, to understand the raw power and conflicting emotions that terrible loss can bring to bear. Cleaning up the spelling and adding proper style elements doesn't get us there. We have to write for effect. All. The. Time.


  1. in my defence, I had started at the other end of the list of blogs to check out and completely missed yours, but...hey nice sleight of hand.

  2. Aloha Barb,

    You had me at guac :)

    I get the effect you meant in the original and wouldn't have changed much at all :)

    Ps... I can't believe I wasn't a follower before, but I am now ;)