Gimmick or a device?

I haven’t opened my dictionary in forever. But I did today.

Gimmick: ingenius or novel device, scheme, deception, hidden disadvantage


What if she had not tried to impress the judges with her tricks? What if she had taken the audition seriously? Would the judges have sent her to Hollywood? Are rhetorical questions a gimmick? Or a device?

Device: a plan, a scheme, or trick for effecting a purpose.  Literary a particular word pattern, combination of word sounds, etc., used to arouse a desired reaction in the reader.

Wow. There seems to be a fine line between a gimmick and a device. To me, a gimmick has a negative conotation. But a device is something useful, a tool.

 But how about gimmicks vs devices in writing?

If rhetorical questions are sparse and well-placed, it’s a device. If they are used to punctuate every section of internal dialogue or end every chapter – it’s a gimmick.

If you let the reader get to know your character and care first, then shocking news in the f irst chapter is a device. If you open your novel with shocking news or a high-paced chase through the woods, but we don’t have the emotional investment in your character yet, it’s a gimmick.

Purple prose? Well, I don’t think there is ever a place for inflated description. It’s a gimmick. But description that sets the mood and tone of your story, helps create the story world, and/or is seen through the eyes of your character? It’s a device.

Again, it all comes down to the writing – creating authentic emotion that invites the reader into the world you’ve created. (I know. Very hard to do.)

But, of course, there is always an exception:

What are other devices that if not used well turns into a gimmick? And which ones have you used? (I used to think rhetorical questions were cool and they still sneak into my writing if I’m not careful.)

And I will leave you with three awesome quotes from the guest judge: Shania Twain.

“The lights are off, but someone is home.”

“…humble, head-on straight, attractive…”

“When you’re good. Try, try again.”

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10 Responses to Gimmick or a device?

  1. Anna January 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Interesting distinction between gimmick and device; I’d never quite thought about it like that. It seems like the biggest distinction between the two is moderation. If you do it in a well-chosen place then it’s a device, but if you overuse it, it’s a gimmick. I would add that if you do it because other people are doing it, it’s probably also a gimmick.

  2. Laura January 22, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    Anna -Yes. This one blog post definitely doesn’t cover all the different gimmicks out there. Or what sometimes makes writing gimmicky. I keep learning bit by bit. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Heather Kelly January 22, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    Laura–I liked the guy who beat-boxed his way through his audition–that was gimmicky too. I think that it depends on whether you are good at making the reader believe in your writing. If you’ve created depth. If not it just seems like, well, a gimmick. Nice post. It makes me think about writing genuinely. (does that make any sense? Some days I should not be commenting.)

  4. Laura January 22, 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    Heather – I think you nailed it. Sometimes the difference between a gimmick and a device is simply how skilled the writer is in making you believe in his/her world and characters. Something that some authors make look so easy!

  5. Sally Apokedak January 23, 2010 at 12:46 am #

    I came over from the blue boards. Loved these videos.

    I was busted a few months back by a Steven Roxburgh who read half my manuscript and then wrote on the bottom of one page in which there were seven rhetorical questions in a row, “I can’t read anymore. I can’t stand it. I’ll die if I have to read one more page,” or something close to that. (I’ve blocked the exact words out, I guess. Too traumatic.)

    heh heh I’m kidding. Roxburgh was actually very nice and he said some nice things about my book, which took away the sting of his hatred for my angsty internal monologue.

    But I wasn’t using the rhetorical questions as a gimmick. I was putting them in out of ignorance. It was how I heard the character thinking through her decisions. I heard her asking questions. Should she do this or that? Did he mean this or that? Was he serious when he asked that?

    So…no more rhetorical questions for me.

    But I’d like to hear more about this “creating authentic emotion that invites the reader into the world you’ve created,” of which you speak. How exactly do you do that?

  6. Laura January 23, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    Sally – I used to use rhetorical questions too, but not on purpose. Somewhere along the line, I learned that they didn’t quite have the effect I thought they did. 🙂

    And yes, creating authentic emotion is hard. In short, it’s done through every element – dialogue, body language, internal dialogue, the right amount of build up through the story, description to set mood. Every aspect of craft helps to create that believable world – and emotion. I’ll have to think some more on that for a blog post because really it’s more like a book. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Heather Kelly January 23, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    Laura–PS–You guided me to cut a part that I had added in during revision–a cheap ploy (I think now) to raise the tension in the novel. Unnecessary, and distracting from what really is the tension. I woke up this morning thinking, “That is a gimmick.” I had been wondering why I felt a bit iffy about that part, and your post led me to the why. Thanks.

    And, trust your instinct!

  8. Laura January 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    That makes me really nervous when I have no idea what you cut. But the old rule is – if you feel iffy about it then you probaby should cut it. (I don’t know why its an old rule, but I do hear it a lot). Share if you want to? Or give me a clue because now I’m curious.

  9. Heather Kelly January 23, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

    Laura–don’t feel nervous–I know when something doesn’t work, but until I know why, sometimes I let things stay and doubt my own instincts.

    It was a small paragraph at the end of my introductory section with my main character. When I read your post, I realized why it wasn’t working–it wasn’t honest. You hold no responsibility for my cut–I wield those editing scissors with crazy abandon!

  10. Laura January 23, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    Phew *wipes sweat from brow* 🙂

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