Thursday, February 10, 2011

Don't Shock Me Unless You Mean It

You must break all the rules of painting [*insert "writing"*], but you must also convince me you've had a reason to do so
— Hans Hoffman

I love this quote. I've read books where something completely unexpected and shocking happens and it's just PHENOMENAL. Maybe the author kills off a main and well-loved character, or maybe they stick a poem in the middle of a chapter or switch POVs midstream or jumps time frames or breaks some other "rule" and it just works. Sometimes breaking all the rules or bending and twisting them in unexpected ways is what makes an incredible book so amazing.

And sometimes it's painfully obvious that the author was aiming for some shock value and it falls flat. 

I think there is a time and place for bending or breaking the rules, but it has to make sense....there has to be a reason for it. If it's done for shock value alone it often comes across as being too forced, unrealistic. The reader is pulled out of the story instead of being thrust further in and is left with a sense of "Oh Please" instead of being wowed.

Just be sure you've got a good reason for what you are doing, something that makes sense for the story, and your readers will be captivated.
Have you ever read something "shocking" or rule-breaking that left you less than impressed? Have you read something done so well it left you in awe of the author's awesomeness? :)


Anonymous said...

Yes, I've encountered both utter flatness and uber-coolness when writer's use "tricks." I suppose it's all in how one takes it, LOL!

Misha said...

Oh I have seen many of these.

But worst is when they insert a twist for shock value - except they never did the groundwork.

Usually, my mind goes something like this:

"You flubbed a classic move. Really? How did you get published?"

Sometimes I can be a bitch when I read.

Tracy said...

Thank you! I especially despise when you know a writer killed a character just for the sake of trying to drum up a little emotional drama.

You can break my heart, but it better serve a point in the story or you're going to lose me.

T C Mckee said...

I'm usually in awe either way. Sometimes it may be at the publisher and other times it's at the author. It's a win win for somebody right?

Katrina L. Lantz said...

So insightful! I just wrote something YESTERDAY that fits in with this post. *sigh* Only time and feedback will tell if my tense change for a paragraph (for a good very reason, I think) will come off as extraordinary or just extra.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

The "shocks" I remember are the ones that come "naturally" from the characters and the situations. That's when shock really works, for me.

A thought-provoking post. Thanks!
Ann Best, Author

Cole Gibsen said...

What a beautiful quote! I love it :)

Matthew Rush said...

It's a very thin line.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy is a MG series that has the most amazing unexpected ending. I've not read anything that surprising since. It's very good.

No I'm not giving it away.

The Golden Eagle said...

Usually if a "shock" falls flat for me I don't even acknowledge it as one; if an author manages to pull off the shock factor off really well then I'll just be in awe.

Abby Annis said...

Awesome quote! Adding it to my collection. :)

Mark Noce said...

I agree. I think the audience for the time also effects how it something is perceived as well:)

Melissa Bradley said...

I love it when an author defies convention and twists things unexpectedly. Conventions are meant to be flouted.

Jen Chandler said...

I don't like the killing of main characters just for shock value. Or just because there "needed" to be a killing. I could mention a very, VERY popular book here, but I won't :)

Know the rules, THEN you can break them. Excellent advice!