Sometimes, when I’m working on a short story I have an idea that I love, but I just can’t get it off the ground. I experienced this a few months back with a sci-fi story that I was working on. I showed it to a couple of people and they said that it was a bit confusing and they couldn’t really work out what was going on. I was switching between past and present tense quite a bit and it all got a little jumbled. It happens. So, I left it and carried on with some other stuff. I picked it up again recently and decided to have another crack at it. I’d tried doing lots of rewrites but I just couldn’t get it to work. Then, I decided to change the structure and layout of the text on the page. It’s not something that I consider as often as I should, but lo and behold, it made things a whole lot easier to understand. I showed it to some people again and their feedback was much better. It showed me just how much difference the layout and structure of a story can make. These are the problems that it can help you to solve.
As I said, it can really help with the clarity of your story. If readers are struggling to get to grips with the action in the story, changing the layout can make it much clearer. Something as simple as a paragraph break shows the readers that the focus has changed and separates two ideas so they can read individually rather than as one. Breaks during dialogue also make it crystal clear exactly who is speaking, without the need for excessive dialogue attribution which a lot of readers find clumsy and annoying. He said, she said can get a bit grating if it’s used over and over.
Shift In Tense
When I was rearranging the aforementioned story, the biggest problem that I had was making a clear distinction between present and past tense sections. I decided to throw convention out of the window. I used a line break each time there was a change, and I aligned the present tense sections left, and the past tense sections right. While that doesn’t conform to traditional writing rules, it created a simple, clear distinction between the two voices, making it far easier to understand for the reader. I’m not suggesting that you use that method every time, but using layout to draw an obvious distinction between two voices is an easy way to improve readability. If you’re struggling with your layout, consider taking a Microsoft Word training course. It will give you more tools that you can use to play around with layout and experiment more. This will open up a lot of possibilities for you when it comes to adjusting the layout of your work.
If you want to create something daring and exciting in your writing, the layout is a good way to do it. I recently read a novel called ‘Marabou Stork Nightmares’ by Irvine Welsh. It follows the story of a man’s dream while he is in a coma but he can hear snippets of conversation from the outside. The dialogue he hears from outside runs parallel to the bulk of the text, forcing itself in from the side of the page. This emulates that conflict in the character’s mind as his attention is stretched between the two worlds. The layout becomes as important a part of the story as the writing itself.
These are just a few examples of how the layout of a story can take it to another level, but the possibilities are endless. Don’t be afraid to be daring, if it doesn’t work, just try something else.
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