1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Freakiest 'rule'/rule breaking you've seen accepted

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by peachalulu, Dec 13, 2014.

    I was thinking about some of the recent threads lately on the strive for correct writing and last night started reading a book called the Franchiser by Stanley Elkin when I was hit by some of the freakiest 'rule'/rule breaking ever. Just to let you know I'm quoting 'rules' for those stylistic guidelines and rules for concrete things like a sentence ends with a period. 'Rules' you can kinda argue. Rules you kind of can't - by kinda I mean everyone will say dialogue needs quotes but then book Blindness comes along and leaves them out.

    My read last night was an eye opener. Stanley Elkin is good writer, Hell, perhaps even a great writer - it's a little too soon to tell I'm only on Chapter 3. But I sometimes wonder - Would he get past a publisher now? I know he'd be eviscerated on the writing forums. His book was published 1976 but his rule breaking doesn't seem to have anything to do with trends of the era - none that I know of - in fact it's the first time I've ever seen anyone do this.

    He switches from I pov to third person pov for the mc within the same scene!

    To be honest it's a little like reading one of my messed up first drafts - lol. Information is trickled out but sometimes not in the right places. I had to continuously turn to the book flap to make sure I had the character's name right because one minute he'd be I the next minute he'd be Ben. What made it worse was this was in a scene with two other men who were introduced sporadically - last names first, first names later. One last name was Flesh so one sentence began with - Flesh opened the opened the window - before you knew it was a last name ( or if it had been mentioned I'd forgotten it. ) Very confusing. Yet the writing was good.

    Anyone ever see some freaky 'rule'/rule breaking and think how did they get away with this?
    p.s. - not trying to start a thread on encouraging 'rule'/rule breaking ( especially for newbies ) but I'm more interested in examining contradictions and whether or not they worked.

    Though I like Elkin's writing I would've ditched this technique - it was too confusing for the reader.
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Did you get the sense that something would have been lost, if he'd written in a more conventional manner? In other words, did the rule-breaking serve a purpose?
     
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  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Actually no. He has a way with descriptions and I felt that stumbling over pov issues kinda ruined their appeal, how can I enjoy the surrounding when I forget how I am - lol. His other idiosyncrasy was to have a large portion of dialogue with no tags, moments after we just met these two men. One was selling t.v.s the other was buying them and I kept loosing track of who wanted what.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see this as freaky, but I think it is nonstandard--Rumer Godden will often express an idea, in the middle of a paragraph, in the voice of a character other than the POV character for the paragraph. It's often something that the character said in the past or future. An example, from Rumer Godden's An Episode of Sparrows:

    To Lucas, Angela was not a big or little gun, she was the gun, she ran the committee, she ran the Gardens. "And she won't let us have wallflowers, says they're common. I like wallflowers," said the Admiral, but behind Angela's back; when she was present he deferred to her, as did Mr. Donaldson; Lucas looked only at her; it was like a court round the queen, thought Olivia.

    I notice that she's probably also the source of my semicolon addiction, but that's not incorrect, just apparently not fashionable in the US right now. I was going to say that there was head-hopping here, but I think I'm wrong--the POV character remains Olivia, who's thinking about what she knows of Lucas and what she's heard from the Admiral.

    The quote insertion was so natural to me, from reading Rumer Godden's books over and over and over in my childhood, that I had to learn that it was nonstandard. If and when I ever get published and have the option to potentially take liberties later, I'll have to think about whether to release that impulse or not.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    House of Leaves always comes to mind in such discussions. More recently, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. You could tell either story in a more conventional manner, but it wouldn't be the same book by half. It would be some lesser imitation.
     
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  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO, if a writer makes the reader go back and figure out who's saying what and when and to whom - that's not a good writer, let alone a great one. That's a writer shouting out "Look how clever I am!" or "Look at the disdain I have for mere communication!". EofS I have also read several times over the years, and had no problem with the quote here. Oh, possibly it could have been "the Admiral had said", but it was definitely not a "Huh?" moment.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't see anything wrong with this. I recognize that it isn't standard, particularly by current criteria, but it reads fine. We don't really need a world of literature where all authors are churning out generic text by adhering to the most commonly-accepted approaches.
     
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  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Could be. Though, I haven't finished it yet. Maybe he's one of those writer's trying to warn you - I'm doing things rather differently, try to keep up. I've ran into a few of those. Lol.
    I've also found that a lot of 'great' or rather admired writers to be rather pompous - Nabokov, Will Self, Anthony Burgess, even at times Atwood. But I sometimes wonder are they really seeking readers, or are they really just striving for infamy?
     
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  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Or just writing what they want to write in the way they feel it should be written, with other considerations secondary.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree--Rumer Godden has some nonstandard elements, but the non-standard writing is not at all at the reader's expense, and not there to demonstrate how clever she is. The reading is comfortable and easy and the nonstandard bits make it easier, not harder, to understand.
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Katria - you started a thread about POV recently and were wondering about head-hopping and changing POVs mid-scene. Perhaps you should check out the book Peach just read :)

    @ChickenFreak - isn't the first line in the passage a horrible case of comma splice!?

    As for rule breaking - doesn't McCormac write dialogue without any quotes? And I once tried to read a YA romance where none of the dialogue was in quotes - it was all presented as if it's part of the narrative, but followed the regular rules of each person's speech being in a separate paragraph. In the end I couldn't finish the book - somehow the speech felt bland and passage without the quotes. That alone probably wouldn't have killed the book, but the rest of the writing was awfully bland too and the premise utterly unbelieveable. Having said that, pretty sure it's been made into a Hollywood movie lol.
     
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  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Blindless had no dialogue quotes either. It was pretty easy to read though but I have seen others flub the technique. I thought the authors worst 'rule' break however was a case of author interruption. I remembered a scene where a prostitute got shoved out of a room when she turned blind and the author, instead of sticking with the character, got into this peculiar rant about oppressed prostitutes or something - it really killed the mood.
     
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  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In addition to not using quotes in Blindness, Saramago also chose to have multiple speakers in the same sentence. The only way you can tell the speaker has changed is that the first word spoken by a new speaker is capitalized. He does this in all his novels by the way.
     
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  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That sounds absolutely awful... I've never read his work, and judging from this, I'm not sure I'm ever gonna.

    I have a question - considering how confusing his work is, is it really worth the effort to get through the book? Do you even actually enjoy it? What value do you see in it, beyond its creative experimentation?
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, it's absolutely worth reading him. He is without a doubt one of the finest novelists I've ever read. It takes some time and effort, but once you get used to his style, you're in for a treat.
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How so...? o_O Got an example? (It's called Blindness by whom?)
     
  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's by Jose Saramago. Here's a passage from Blindness that shows you what I'm talking about:
     
  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In that short passage, I'm already lost as to who's speaking lol. But is the idea behind it that it actually doesn't matter who's speaking?

    There's definitely a certain sense of appeal to that passage. Something about it feels very interesting, though I'm not quite sure what. I'm not sure I can personally stomach that sorta tone of voice for an entire novel though. How long's the book?
     
  19. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It does matter who's speaking. In this passage, the blind man is talking first, and the other guy joins in with "But blindness isn't like that." After that, the blind man's next line of dialogue begins with "Well I see everything white." The capitalized word lets you know that the speaker has changed. Sometimes a sentence will start with "I," but it's always clear who's speaking through context.

    It's about 350 pages.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'll have to look up that book by Saramago. Looks interesting. Woolf was also known to head hop mid-sentence.
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    One of the hardest books I ever read was Riddley Walker ...and it's one of my favourite books of all time. It's a supreme example of how an odd, nearly unreadable style can actually be crucial to the point the author wanted to make. The lightbulb moment didn't come till very near the end, but it was so startling and so 'right' that I actually started laughing. At myself, for doubting the author and his style.

    I was hornswoggled to see a newer edition of the book that contains an illustration that gives the game away. I'm surprised the author let the edition see the light of day. It wrecks the voyage of discovery entirely.
     
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  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You have to wonder about the reaction often seen to books that don't follow the established 'rules' often handed down to new writers. What I often hear from professional writers and many non-professionals is that if you want to break the rules, feel free to do so all you like, but that by understanding the rules first, you're more likely to break them in a way that works for your story rather than end up with a mess on your hands. I think that is sound advice.

    What I sometimes encounter on writing forums, usually from writers who are hoping to become professional writers but haven't yet, is a more strict adherence to the rules, and that you can't do x or y, or that doing x or y has to be for some invalid reason (i.e. other than serving the author's vision of the story). I've wondered where the sentiment comes from, particularly in relation to what is an artistic endeavor, and I think in many cases it comes down to the insecurities that many writers have, and also the unpredictability of the profession. There are good writers that will never be successful enough to quit their day jobs. It can be daunting sometimes, when you think of how much time and emotion goes into writing, to realize how the odds of success stack up against the writer. There must be some comfort to be had in reducing writing to a formula, where if you follow rules A + B + C, then you'll eventually end up with the outcome D, a successful publishing career. Humans like to attach rules to things that are outside of their control and/or lack sufficient predictability. We've been doing it for as long as we've been human. Insistence that there are inviolate rules of writing that have to be followed seems more like an attempt by the insistor to impose order on the universe of an aspiring writer, and to bring about reassurance that by following a proscribed formula the inevitable result is success, just like following the proper instructions for a chemical reaction will invariably bring about the desired end product.
     
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  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's not that I didn't get the capitalisation thing indicating a new speaker - it's the simple fact that I just lose track. I can't be holding the names in my head and hopping like that all in the same sentence. Of course I kept track of it in the first 3-4 instances, but then I just lost it.

    350 pages... probably a little long for me with something like this, but still short enough to give it a go I think. Maybe I should give it a chance and just be more patient with it. I'm just generally a horribly impatient reader.
     
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  24. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you've touched a disappointing occurrence. I understand that most suggest such rigidity to ensure that new writers don't run things all tragic like, but it seems to develop into an underlying disagreement with experimentation. I find this a bad thing.
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Swiveltaffy

    I don't know if my explanation is the right one, but it is an attempt to reconcile two seemingly contradictory things. Most writers seem to me to be fairly well-read, however even a moderately well-read person has to be aware of the many exceptions in published fiction to any given rule. So it is empirically demonstrable that the rules aren't inviolate, but some people still take the approach that they are (or at least that they are if you want to write the "right" way).
     

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