Writing rules?

timmiesJoe’s Post #119 – So there I was, bum in chair, a Timmies coffee steaming beside me, the sounds of skates and coaches yelling just beyond the plexiglass in the Langley Sportsplex, and I was just about to write another riveting, nay, epic tale about my research.

But no. Though I’ve learned some amazing things about Holland during the war and my books have all come in (including a text-book on Anglo-Dutch relations during the war, and I don’t mean a sex book) I thought, based on the last posts by Silk and Paula, that I’d talk about a book.

The reason I want to talk about it is it’s a book I read on recommendation, a book that’s been turned into a movie, and a book that does something (actually a LOT of things) different.

gone girlIt’s Gone Girl.

Oh, it’s a massively clever book, this one. It’s a writer’s book. And it’s one that all writers need to look at in their darkest moments, when the rules of writing or a teacher’s words about what to do and what not to do come haunting us in the dark.

First off, it’s got two “I” perspectives, or what I like to call ‘first person perspectives’. That’s odd right there. Two you say? Why, yes, two. One from the present, the other, mostly, from a diary. How many times have we heard that can’t be done? Well, Gillian Flynn did it. And did it well.

Second, backstory. It starts on the 2nd chapter.

Wait, what? I thought we couldn’t have backstory right off the bat? Well, looks like you can.

Third. Two, count them, two unreliable narrators. I don’t want to give away plot points or twists or spoilers, but both lie their asses off to the reader, either by omission or by outright deception. Now, who has heard we can’t have unreliable narrators? Who thinks you can’t write a book, a book in 1st person that has things hidden from the reader?

Well, Gone Girl did just that.


In your face.

So, I ask you, are there any hard-cannot-break-rules for storytelling? Really? Did she outline or not outline? Did she worry about making her characters likeable or unlikeable? I dunno.

What she did was write a brilliant story. It’s seriously one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long while. She told the story she wanted to tell and told it the way she wanted to tell it.

It’s compelling because it has a great question that needs to be answered. It works because the voices in the book are unique, brutally observant, and (frankly) deeply disturbing. It’s amazing because the plot is so tight, so tense that it’s impossible to put down. (Oh and check out her verbing of words – like someone “mosquitoing around her.”)

So here’s the thing, at least for me, and it harkens (yes, I said ‘harkens’) back to something one of my writing gurus said. “Just write a good book.” “But how, dammit, how?” I cried out. And there are ways to do it, techniques to use to hook a reader, to make them not be able to stop at the end of a chapter, to have characters we loathe and love, etc, etc, but when it comes to writing that book, just write it.

Anyway you want.

I think I’ll do mine in my own blood. I hear agents love that.

13 thoughts on “Writing rules?

  1. When you know the rules well enough, then you can break ’em. The problem is that newbie writers think they do, and they don’t. You’re not a newbie – write it on your own terms!

  2. Right, It was a good story & I loved & loathed some of the characters at various times throughout. And I was disappointed in the ending. Only because I like happy ever after endings. However, i would read another book written by this author just to see if the same style is used. And then again, to repeat the style would make me suspect twists & turns so that in itself could make it an interesting read.

    • Thanks, Vonnie. I totally loved the loathed the characters as well, but I kept reading and reading.
      As to the ending, I’m not sure it could have really gone any other way. It’s vaguely unsatifying, but it’s also, you know, right.

  3. We must be on the same wavelength Joe. Reading it right now. I mean RIGHT now. It’s sitting in my lap. Can’t put it down. Bye — gotta go read!

  4. Did you see the movie? How did it compare with the book? I hadn’t read the book when i saw the movie, and I was blown away. I like unreliable narrators, but I’d never heard of two antagonistic unreliable narrators until I saw the film.

  5. Forgot the original topic. I’m not sure if i can just write it the way I want to, or have to learn the rules and then break them if I choose. That’s an ongoing argument in modern jazz, and there are no conclusive answers. Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman are esoteric figures, while Miles Davis and John Coltrane are giants. all of them broke the rules, and IF ‘Trane knew the rules, he was the only one of the four.

    • Soffer, you know what, my advice right now is write it. If it’s a great story, it’s a great story. Forget the rules, or things you think you need to do. I would advise not writing in blood or crayon, but rules-schmules, I say.

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