Wednesday, January 4, 2012


The Golden Eagle posted an excerpt from Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange the other day, and it got me thinking. I love A Clockwork Orange, but Burgess plays with language in a way that takes a while to get. I always find that after a couple of pages, I get into the language as if it's my native tongue, but there is that discomfort and confusion at the beginning: "Rassoodocks?" "Mesto?" "Moloko?" What language is this? What is this guy talking about? (Spellcheck doesn't like those words either, I notice as I type them!)

Books like this require a reader to do some work, make an investment, trust the author. Not every reader is willing to do that.There are readers who hunger for experimental works, who love that challenge, but they will always be a subset of the audience. And so, as a writer, it's safer to write a very accessible, traditional text.

And yet, as a reader, I find that experimental works often give me the biggest payoff. A Clockwork Orange, for instance.

I wrote short stories for years, and I didn't distort the traditional story-telling style at first. There were so many stories I wanted to tell, and so much to learn about telling them! It took a few years before I wanted to fool around with form. First I nibbled a bit: Very short stories. Very long stories. Stories in the second person. Then I grew a bit more daring: Cut-line prose. Stories that mimicked other forms of writing. Repetitive lines. A vague narrator whose identity was open to reader interpretation. Invented language.

I've been taking the same journey in novels. I'm still writing traditionally, but I'm toying with the idea of playing with form a bit more in some future project. The digital world will probably open up all sorts of possibilities: ways to integrate words with pictures, sound, video; ways to change the linear flow of a story; etc., etc. But I don't want to be gimmicky about it. I want the form to mean something to the story; I want that form to be the best way to tell that story.

In A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess didn't invent a lot of words just to try to be cute, or clever, or obscure. He skewed the language for a reason, and he chose to base his language on Russian for a reason.

As a reader or a writer, sometimes a challenge can be fun.

Source of recommended read: one copy bought, one received as a gift


  1. Thanks for the link to my post!

    As a reader, I'm interested to find out how authors use technology to tell stories; if it's effective, an alternative format can really benefit the story. And as a writer, there are a lot of possibilities to be explored, especially with so many people switching to mobile and other electronic devices.

  2. Eagle: Yes, and I think we'll be seeing a lot of experimenting with the digital possibilities for storytelling.

  3. You got my creative wheels spinning in multiple circles. So many possibilities.

  4. I've been meaning to read A Clockwork Orange for years. I think it needs to move to the top of my reading pile.

  5. Michelle--it's a very good novel. The language makes it a bit challenging, so it's not a book for when you're in a light escapist mood. But when you want to dig into something really fascinating, go for it!