August 25, 2010 at 5:24 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Shiny, glittering, distractions.

It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.

It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.

Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.

Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.

Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.

Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.

Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.

And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.

You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.

So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?



  1. Brown Eyed Mystic said,

    I can’t say about reading shiny, but I can testify the many daily soaps that use the very technique! I know, it is superficial, and at times makes me pull my hair; but what the heck, they still sell.


  2. umavvs said,

    I feel shiny would sell with other media…but in these times of visual media overdose and hence instant gratification, anyone who still has the patience to read would definitely look for substance…and the more so with the seasoned reader.

  3. Alex Willging said,

    I admit that I’ve got a thing for really colorful language and inventive phrases, but then again, that’s if it’s pulled off well and not just the writer trying to be verbose. In the case of the former, I refer you to the style of Matt Stover, whose prose always brings me delight.

  4. AlexJ said,

    I like the one about a character undergoing a personality transplant!

  5. tsuchigari said,

    I haven’t had many run in’s with ‘shiny’ writing but I see it all the time in movies, etc. I’m guilty of using scene changes often when things are getting a little hairy in the story.

  6. Lua said,

    If I’m curious to see what’s going to happen next in the story I allow those shiny distractions to keep me from seeing all the flaws… But if it gets to a point where I feel like the author is just being lazy and treating me like a fool, I’ll close the book and move on.

  7. Carol Kilgore said,

    Point of view changes and surprise entrances or story facts might count as shiny. Not sure.

  8. Jane Kennedy Sutton said,

    I can’t think of any particular book or scene off the top of head. A single shiny distraction I can usually live with, more than that will quickly drive me nuts.

  9. Smander said,

    Firstly, I read your title and opening line as “shinny” and thought, “what the?”

    Aside from my inability to read, a great post…Nothing shinnnny pops into mind but Ill give shiny some thought.

  10. Hart said,

    I like bendy philosophy. Tom Robbins is my favorite executor of stories that really don’t make much sense, or are almost riduculously simple, but the bendy stuff makes them too much fun not to read.

    On other shiny things… beautiful language is really good. Distraction, not so much. Though I’ve gotten seriously less tolerant of it since I started WRITING more seriously–I used to not mind so much, when I didn’t know WHY the tangent was there (that the writer had written themselves into a tight spot or was trying to be clever when they weren’t).

  11. Cruella Collett said,

    This reminds me of the “Glee” episode “Hairography”. Just add bling and throw those lovely locks around, and no one will know you’re not that good a singer….

    As a writer, though, it’s true that we sometimes cheat like this. Sometimes we are even able to fool ourselves…

  12. Tooty Nolan said,

    Shiny? Sounds like me.

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