Created By: Folamh3 on September 24, 2011 Last Edited By: Folamh3 on October 7, 2011
Troped

Unconventional Formatting

Words________________ placed on the page in UNUSUAL ways

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Trope
Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A literary trope
in which the text is arranged on the page in strange ways, including but not limited to: right-to-left (in Western works), bottom-to-top, reversed, upside-down etc. It can also make use of colours, multiple fonts and other typographical tricks of this nature.

It can be done for a variety of reasons. A popular one is to represent a character's mental state, e.g. using cramped text to symbolize claustrophobia or feeling "trapped".

Other writers may use it to visually represent the action being described in the text.

The technical name for this is ergodic literature, from the Greek ergon, meaning "work", and hodos, meaning "path" - that is, formatting in which a great deal of work is required on the part of the reader to find a "path" through the text.

A subtrope of Painting the Fourth Wall. Sometimes used in Meta Fiction and Scrapbook Stories. See also Footnote Fever (with which this sometimes overlaps), Censor Box, Bold Inflation, Color-Coded for Your Convenience and Page Turn Surprise.

Note: When adding examples, please be descriptive.

Examples:

FanFic

  • Whenever someone writes fanfic about a movie character that, ah, talks all . . . funny, like Heath Ledger's Joker, this, er, winds up happening. aND don'T EvEn MentIon dElIrIUm.

Literature

  • House of Leaves is possibly the most extreme example of this: multiple fonts, multiple colours, literally hundreds of footnotes, text which goes up, down, left, right, backwards, in spirals, sometimes only with one or two words printed per page and so on. It was so over-the-top the publisher's typesetters wouldn't even look at it, so the author Mark Danielewski had to typeset it himself.
  • Trainspotting uses slightly unusual textual layouts whilst the protagonist is hallucinating due to heroin withdrawal.
  • Stephen King uses this from time to time: different fonts and typefaces, the intrusion of handwriting into typed text, and a device appearing in most of his works which makes use of italics, parentheses and sudden line breaks to represent character thoughts, as in this example from The Shining:
    The question was meant to be rhetorical, but his mind answered it
    (you call it insanity)
    nevertheless.
  • Tristram Shandy is probably the Ur-Example.
  • A favourite device of e.e. cummings, as can be seen here.
  • Terry Pratchett uses this quite often:
    • In Maskerade many readers were puzzled by a sentence fragment on the page, floating near the right margin saying "up here?". Near the bottom of the page a character is asked to demonstrate her skill in throwing her voice.
    • In Reaper Man Death who is famous for speaking in all caps meets his boss, who speaks in "caps" so huge and bold they took up an entire page. Pratchett stated in interviews that he spent quite a bit of time arranging the prose so that this would happen on a left hand page and thus be a surprise to the reader. Reaper Man also uses two different typefaces for the A story and B story.
    • When the god Om regains his strength at the end of Small Gods, he speaks with chapter and verse numbers inserted between his sentences.
  • The Demolished Man uses unusual type layout to depict telepathic conversations (sentences trailing down a page and interweaving like braids; a party game where the image formed by the words is a kind of charade clue).
  • In a style reminiscent of e. e. cummings, the novel Crank uses this on every page, with each chapter using a different format from the previous one. Its most prominent usage is in the use of space; the book is over five hundred pages long and takes a matter of hours to read.
  • Jasper Fforde uses this a lot in the Thursday Next books particularly. Justified in that much action takes place in the Book World, with eraser bullets that reduce literary characters to text, locations like the Text Sea, and so on.
    • Fforde also uses this to graphically show what's happening in the text. Mycroft's Bookworms in TheEyre Affair produce apostrophes' as a waste product, as well as amper&s, and when they get upset, they hyphen-ate. These marks show up in the text of the dialogue to illustrate this.
  • Parodied in one of the Monty Python books where there's a self-referential page of coloured letters on a black background.
  • Concrete poetry is a poetic genre based around this trope.
  • Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends is printed in such a way that if you flip the pages front to back it's full of large fonted black print but if you flip it back to front it's full of tiny red print. This is used to trick your friend into believing that a special pair of cardboard specs (included) make things magically appear.
  • Not sure if this counts, but artist Tom Phillips made an art book called A Humanent by altering copies of A Human Document, leaving only a few words visible per page and drawing a line to guide the reader in the correct word order.
  • The People Of Paper has an interesting one: some characters have the intrinsic ability to conceal their thoughts and actions from the author, and others can do so by lining their hat or their house with lead. In-text, this shows up as Censor Boxes over the concealed events (in some cases, entire pages of black).

Web Comics

  • Homestuck is all about this. Every character has their own unique typing style that fits their personality (the humans doing subtle things like dropping initial caps or using different emoticons, and the trolls favouring Leet Lingo), certain Arc Words are written in specific (occasionally flashing) colours or with an animated gif replacing one of the letters, and at one point a character doing something around the back of the narrator speaks to the reader through Alt Text. The ==> command that indicates a new page is even replaced with ======> for the troll arc, to reflect the change from the four main characters to the twelve main characters (count the bars).
Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • September 24, 2011
    CodeMan38
    EE Cummings did this with quite a few of his poems.
  • September 24, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    In Maskerade many readers were puzzled by a sentence fragment on the page, floating near the right margin saying "up here?". Near the bottom of the page a character is asked to demonstrate her skill in throwing her voice.

    In Reaper Man Death who is famous for speaking in all caps meets his boss, who speaks in "caps" so huge and bold they took up an entire page. Sir Terry Pratchett stated in interviews that he spent quite a bit of time arranging the prose so that this would happen on a left hand page and thus be a surprise to the reader. Reaper Man also uses two different typefaces for the A story and B story.
  • September 25, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    I read... that laconic in ChristopherWalken's... VOICE.

    Some novels that feature multiple narrators will give each character their own font. Would that qualify?
  • September 25, 2011
    MorganWick
    ^And I... read that in... William Shatner's.
  • September 25, 2011
    pinkdalek
    Another Pratchett example - when the god Om regains his strength at the end of Small Gods, he speaks with chapter and verse numbers inserted between his sentences.

    Homestuck is all about this. Every character has their own unique typing style that fits their personality (the humans doing subtle things like dropping initial caps or using different emoticons, and the trolls favouring Leet Lingo), certain Arc Words are written in specific (occasionally flashing) colours or with an animated gif replacing one of the letters, and at one point a character doing something around the back of the narrator speaks to the reader through Alt Text. The ==> command that indicates a new page is even replaced with ======> for the troll arc, to reflect the change from the four main characters to the twelve main characters (count the bars).
  • September 25, 2011
    WillBGood
    • The Demolished Man uses unusual type layout to depict telepathic conversations (sentences trailing down a page and interweaving like braids; a party game where the image formed by the words is a kind of charade clue).
  • September 26, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Bold Inflation seems related.
  • September 26, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    A few of the examples are currently X Just X and should be expanded upon.
  • September 27, 2011
    Psychobabble6
    • In a style reminiscent of e. e. cummings, the novel Crank uses this on every page, with each chapter using a different format from the previous one. Its most prominent usage is in the use of space; the book is over five hundred pages long and takes a matter of hours to read.
  • September 27, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Jasper Fforde uses this a lot in the Thursday Next books particularly. Justified in that much action takes place in the Book World, with eraser bullets that reduce literary characters to text, locations like the Text Sea, and so on.
  • September 27, 2011
    Auxdarastrix
    Looks like this would be a subtrope of Painting The Fourth Wall.
  • September 27, 2011
    Gatomon41
    Concrete Poetry is another example, in which the words are arranged to convey an image or effect the original poem has.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete_poetry
  • September 27, 2011
    LeeM
    Parodied in one of the Monty Python books where there's a self-referential page of coloured letters on a black background.
  • September 27, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Penn And Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends is printed in such a way that if you flip the pages front to back it's full of large fonted black print but if you flip it back to front it's full of tiny red print. This is used to trick your friend into beliving that a special pair of cardboard specs (included) make things magically appear.
  • September 28, 2011
    Chariset
    Not sure if this counts, but artist Tom Phillips made an art book called A Humanent by altering copies of A Human Document, leaving only a few words visible per page and drawing a line to guide the reader in the correct word order.
  • September 28, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    related to Page Turn Surprise
  • September 28, 2011
    GuesssWho
    Whenever someone writes fanfic about a movie character that, ah, talks all . . . funny, like Heath Ledger's Joker, this, er, winds up happening. aND don'T Ev En Ment Ion dElIrIUm.
  • October 4, 2011
    Folamh3
    bump
  • October 4, 2011
    IuraCivium
    The Stars My Destination features an extensive section of this towards the end of the work.
  • October 4, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    ^How so?
  • October 4, 2011
    elwoz
    I'm pretty sure we already have a trope for comic-book characters whose speech bubbles are always in a particular, nonstandard font or color (used heavily in The Sandman, for instance) but can't find it at the moment (apart from the discussion on Speech Bubbles itself).

    The People Of Paper has an interesting one: some characters have the intrinsic ability to conceal their thoughts and actions from the author, and others can do so by lining their hat or their house with lead. In-text, this shows up as CensorBoxes over the concealed events (in some cases, entire pages of black).
  • October 6, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    I think this is different. Fforde uses this stuff to graphically show what's happening in the text. Mycroft's Bookworms in TheEyre Affair produce apostrophes' as a waste product, as well as amper&s, & when they get upset, they hyphen-ate. These marks show up in the text of the dialogue to illustrate this.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=86igx1g1nc11gliixnz7407i