How weird is too weird?

A reader asked me, “How about how you differentiate between an exciting new idea and something that’s just plain weird? Have you ever written anything that you loved, but others didn’t quite get?”

First I’d like to quote from my favorite rejection letter:

“The majority of our editorial readers thought this story was just too odd for their tastes; it didn’t appeal to any of them, although one editor found humor within your manuscript.”

When I got the above rejection letter (the summer of 1997), I was in the throes of my biggest creative rush. The previous year I ended a dire relationship and for the first time really applied myself to writing. It seemed as if all the story ideas backed up in my brain came out at once, and I averaged a 3,000-word short story every week. I submitted everything I wrote, rationalizing that somewhere there might in fact be an editor looking for a story about a female redneck big game hunter tracking an African poacher masquerading as the leader of a cult of silkworm worshippers.

I was wrong. As the above quote explains in detail.

I’ve had my share of weird ideas. Speculative fiction, I think, tends to send your thoughts out there more than, say, writing a literary coming-of-age novel set in your old home town. And sometimes you have to go past the edge in order to look back and see it.

Experience has taught my to better screen ideas before committing the time and energy to develop them into stories. But I still have just as many outrageous, bizarre and probably unpalatable ones as ever. Sometimes they progress to actual manuscripts before they reveal themselves as unworkable, but usually I catch them early in the process. I don’t want to filter them at the source; I want my subconscious to feel free to toss up any suggestions, no matter how twisted or bizarre. Luckily the ol’ id doesn’t take it personally if a few get sidelined for being, as the letter said, just too odd.

So to answer the first part of the question, I’d say experience. As for the second part, pretty much everything I’ve written has run up against people who just didn’t “get” it. Thankfully, though, I’ve found plenty of people who do.

3 Comments on “How weird is too weird?”

  1. Good Post. I've also blown through short stories I asumed would be interesting as novels, only to find out there really wasn't anything worth explaining. I realized, for me, writing a short story would help me get the idea out of my head, it was also a good test drive of the characters and plot.

  2. Ha ha Alex- I loved that editorrial comment- just too odd, eh? I'm editing my first novel right now and my main character's skin changes color with her emotions. That's what prompted the question. Thanks for the reply. -Kelly

  3. I'm so glad I'm not the only one to get the it's-too-weird-for-us letter. At the time, I thought that was pretty rich coming from a sci-fi ezine, but no, some things really are too oddball to be expected to appeal to masses of readers.

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