Books don’t have to be arranged in a traditional format – there are many writers looking to change the traditional sentence and paragraph structure. For a very long time, much writing has been arranged in a paragraph-by-paragraph format, which is easy to read and what most people are used to. However, if the text itself is concerned with breaking traditional rules of storytelling and narrative, it fits that the way the story is visually told to the reader would change as well.
Many would see traditional methods of laying out print on a page to be too restrictive and traditional – and would also see breaking with these conventions similar to how a film-maker can alter traditional methods of visual storytelling and narrative to approach viewers in a different way. When one thinks about it, there’s much less for a writer to do visually than there is for a director or film-maker. It’s often been considered the case that a writer has to work within the paragraph and sentence format seen (with the exception of footnotes) in every book, and use their writing itself to alter the ways in which a story is told to the reader. Just as a filmmaker has to display their film in the traditional projected-on-to-a-screen, square format, a writer has to use sentences, paragraphs and traditional book typeface layout to tell their story – no matter how unconventional it is. However, there are some writers who are choosing to buck these conventions.
The book ‘House of Leaves’ subverts a lot of these conventions by arranging paragraphs all over the page, beginning and ending sentences in odd places, and making odd formatting decisions throughout the novel. It all adds to the book’s sense of claustrophobia and things not being quite right.
The work by William Gibson, ‘Agrippa’, is a poem that exists entirely on floppy disk within a larger book that does not actually contain the poem. The book itself has type that is designed to fade and decay as it is exposed to light, and the poem is part of a program that essentially deletes itself once the poem has been viewed once – it self-encrypts and cannot be accessed again. This is a way of highlighting the possible transitory nature of memory, and removing the ‘concrete’ nature of movable type by creating a ‘one-use-only’ kind of work that denies the reader the usual
As media develops and starts to cross the traditional boundaries between books, films, art, media, video games and God knows what else, the question rises up time and time again. Can a work of fiction in a readable format really be considered ‘scary’? Many would say so, as they have had the living daylights scared out of them by a work like something by Stephen King. But the question is, in a world where so much of what affects us operates on more of a visual and auditory level than a ‘word-based level, can you really scare people purely with description? I would say you would. Perhaps not in a jump scare kind of way, but more of a psychologically intense level.
There is a lot of fiction out there that makes one scared to read farther, to continue this reading experience, and this is something that movies can achieve but also have some trouble with. Movies can scare the hell out of you with a jump and loud noise, but unless you’re watching it at home and have oms kind of control over the film, then you’re not able to pause it and not want to go ahead – like a book. However, films are ‘unstoppable’ in the sense that you might not want it go on but it does anyway – which is something that they capitalise on, but haven’t really addressed in-film.
Books, however, allow you as much as time you need to read them – and this can sometimes be a blessing and curse. If you’re reading something truly scary, then you’re likely to stop reading and go very stop-and-start – knowing that you must finish this text, but there’s like to be some horrible and frightening stuff coming up. It’s not like you can just write in all caps to scare someone, but it’s still something that’s considerable – whether you’re going for a visceral, intense horror or something more deep and psychological, then you’re looking at an interesting and approachable way to go about writing horror. Many writers like Clive Barker alternate between psychological and ‘gross-out’ horror – what some would call ‘torture porn’. It’s never as visceral as in the films, of course, but still – there are many descriptions of acts and situations where you would really take offence, and words that worm into your brain and give you some serious difficulty continuing. Books can indeed be scary.
There are plenty of approaches to the world of English literature, which has long seemed to many to be somewhat stuffy, insular and difficult to approach – particularly if you are a young person or outside the traditional scope of what a ‘writer’ is. When faced with this, many writers are turning to the concept of ‘alternative literature’, or a way of publishing and writing that is far removed from what you think of when you first imagine the world of writing and literature.
As the internet becomes more and more prevalent in everybody’s lives, there are a large number of writers who are incorporating much of the language and culture that the internet has spawned (particularly in youth culture) into the world of literature and writing. It’s an interesting meeting between the worlds of Gmail Chat, emojis, Tumblr posts and traditional writing mores. As such, it’s definitely intended for a fairly specific audience – the same kind of people who write alt lit are more than likely to be the ones who read it, as well as English Literature students and any kind of young person involved in or with a liberal arts degree. This isn’t to mean that these are the only kinds of people who can read this kind of literature, but in terms of cultural references and writing style, it’s clearly aimed towards them.
There are many who argue that the style of writing in alt lit is a little too ‘thrown away’ and doesn’t carry the same kind of weight or meaning that other fiction has. Much alt lit is extensively clinical, detached and dry in its writing style and narrative – in extreme cases, it seems like every alt lit story is disaffected mid-twenties white people taking prescription drugs and talking blandly, with plenty of play-by-play description of what people are thinking. This can be see neither as an attempt to convey the thought processes of the modern ‘alternative’ person, or as something that alt lit writers now expect they have to do.
At the very least, alt lit can be seen as a reaction to how prevalent technology, widespread dissemination of culture and absolutely instantaneous gratification have become integral parts of society throughout the world – and particularly for people under the age of 30 who have come to expect these kind of things to be completely natural and a part of life that will never go away.