Breaking the rules

A few years ago a major book retailer ran a survey of its customers asking for their favourite book. These were then collated into their ‘Top 100 books of all time.’ Clearly the marketing department did not look far enough into the future, as every other book store, including the original one involved, went on to release a ‘top 100 books’ every year after. At least they dropped the ‘of all time’ on subsequent lists.

I have slowly been making my way though that original list ever since. The most recent book I read was “A fortunate life” by A. B. Facey. This book was originally written by Albert for his family, so his story wouldn’t be forgotten. When he sent it to be printed (20 copies for his family) the publishers asked if they could publish it as a novel, and so an Australian masterpiece was born.

I say masterpiece because I loved the book. I read it with wonder, and awe and all the things you want a book to bring to you (and some you didn’t know until you got there). The thing is the book is not ‘correctly’ written. Conversations between different people are on the same line. The same word starts every paragraph on two concurrent pages and there is a lot of exposition. But it was wonderful. If you want to know what it was like to live in Australia around the turn of last century, this is a superb and entertaining way to learn about it.

This reading experience reminded me of when I was reading Cormac McCarthey’s “The Road” –where I was at least 15 pages in before I realised there were no paragraphs. For me it didn’t matter. When someone has a great story to tell, and they know how to engage you, then clearly the rules do not apply. This takes great skill.

Breaking rules for the sake of it will, I’m sure, ruin a story. But when it comes naturally, or is committed with an educated eye, then I think it can work. Having said that, I do like paragraphs, and I like separate lines for each person talking. Often rules are there for a reason, so make sure you know why you are breaking them if you decide to go down that track. If people don’t notice when they read it, then that’s a good sign that it works with your story.


One thought on “Breaking the rules”

  1. Rules are really just suggestions imo. They are there for a reason, as you say, so it’s important to listen to them, but then you can decide if they help the story or not.

    Is A Fortunate Life the book the are making a mini series of atm?
    I have a vague recollection of my mum reading it to me when I was much younger, but I’ll have to check with her if it’s the same. Might just be better to read it again now though.

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