Experimental Writing

Experimental Writing: It’s About More Than Looking Weird on the Page

By Sequoia Nagamatsu

As a co-editor of a journal (Psychopomp) which focuses on showcasing “genre-bending” and “non-traditional” fiction, I see a lot of interesting pieces that make artistic choices running the gamut from stories told via artifacts (news articles, portions of plays, charts, drawings) to the incorporation of lots of white (and darkened) spaces to passages that create abstraction on a syntactical level. While deciding what to vote on for publication, I see some of these more “experimental” pieces as wildly successful while others tend to fall flat. Sometimes this failure to resonate lies with the nature and scope of the experimentation. Sometimes I get the sense that the author didn’t think enough about how the threads of form/structure attached themselves to content.

In other words, a successful literary experiment (regardless of whether that experiment resembles realist fiction or your Settlers of Catan board) has to do more than look weird on the page (and I get the sense that a lot of newer writers think that experimental writing has to look weird on the page). There is content to consider, literary tradition, context, and the metaphoric and aesthetic resonance of artifice and construction.

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