I recently discovered Victor Shklovsky’s essay Art as Technique. It had that wonderful effect that reads sometimes do of bringing my many rogue thoughts into an elegant ordered relation.
It goes like this: artists want their audiences to break out of the habit-hustle, to slow, so they can show them something. Therefore, artists use all sorts of speaking strange to hold and focus the reader’s attention. Yes, yes, my mind is full of notes on the purpose of art. And I have piles of design devices on hand. But with one simple stroke Shklovsky then tied all these together under one grand technique he calls defamiliarization. How very lovely.
How so? When I have before me the aim of trying to awaken my reader, I see my means is to recreate for them what the experience of what wonder is like. It is clumsy. It is foreign. It’s like seeing something for the first time. It is mooreeffoc. And so, write it that way.
My parents tell me when I was a little girl I hadn’t yet acquired the word for peas, so I called them bean-balls. But in calling them bean-balls they became so much more then peas. That’s a very helpful way for me to think about the way I write.
“I would start thinking of the small animal dignity that children and puppies and shy little horses struggle so hard to maintain; the wonder and surprise of the world of a kitten by itself for the first time … and stories would come.”
– Margaret Wise Brown, American Picturebooks: From Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, pg. 258