Friday, August 20, 2010


Hey!  Back from San Diego and I brought a head cold with me.  Yuck :(

While I was gone, I read a couple of books.  Two of them made some really odd choices that made me stop to think.  The first book, UNWIND, which I wrote about, used a third person limited structure but then changed POV's in every chapter.  It was off-putting at first because I felt like it distanced me from the characters.  However by the end, I got used to it and, as I said in my review, loved the book.

The other is DRUMS, GIRLS AND DANGEROUS PIE.  I'm head over heels for this book, but the author does an odd thing.  Instead of using quotation marks around dialog, he italicizes it and then uses quotation marks around thoughts.  It was confusing at first because I never knew when he was talking or thinking.  Also, I notice that he didn't use dialog tags, at least not often.

It led me to wonder what makes authors break from convention and do things like this.  In Deathday, I chose to use the unconventional present tense because it seemed like the only way to avoid having Ollie narrate from beyond the grave.  I also felt like it gave the story an immediacy that past tense couldn't achieve.

So what are some unconventional things YOU do in your writing, and why do you do them?  Does it bother you when other writers do unconventional things?


  1. I'm not bothered so much by the unconventional. Admittedly, I do notice it more since I've started writing. There have been a few times I've sat back and wondered, 'How did they get away with that?'.

    My guess is if the writing and plot are done well enough to draw readers in, some rules are forgiven. (Hugs)Indigo

  2. My main rule is, "If it confuses people, don't do it. If it doesn't confuse people, feel free to use it -- if it accomplishes something and you're not just doing it as its own end."

    Right now, in my WIP Real Stakes I'm trying a flipping 1st person ultra-intimate POV between two characters, alternating chapters.

    I begrudgingly came around to that after writing the 1st 20K in 3rd person and then rebooting and getting 30K in 1st person (one POV). I've made the switch because I think right now it's the only way to accomplish my aims.

    I'll see whether it's confusing or not, in the end, though...

  3. I have a weird relationship with the unconventional-ness of HOW I LIVE NOW, by Meg Rosoff. I love the book, but it took me a while to get the rhythm of the run on sentences, And I mean, RUN ON. But, since it was a matter of voice, I forgave it. The punctuation thing would have bugged me! And so would the POV shifts for that matter. I think. I guess I haven't given either of those books a try. Still, I wouldn't do it as a writer. I'm a rules girl when it comes to writing. Play by them first, and when I've proved myself, maybe take a stab at breaking them. (I've suddenly never felt so conservative.)

  4. Hmm. My prose goes a little purple on purpose every time the MC describes a nature scene. This is in the hopes of hinting at an underlying environmental theme in a way that won't overwhelm the reader. But i'm still in revision, and not agented, so there is no guarantee that it will work.

    Great question. Thanks Shaun!

    Today's guest blogger is Renae Mercado!

  5. Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie is one of my favorite books. After I read your post I had to go pull out the book because I didn't remember that bothering me when I read it!

  6. I like the unconventional as well--for instance I really enjoyed Tom Robbins writing in 2nd person in Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas--but I expect there to be a good reason for the author to do it.
    I've taken various risks in just about everything I've written (like my use of a screenplay in one novel), and I'm also not published. That's a risk in itself.

  7. I have a little trouble when authors write dialogue without quotes or italics. McCarthy did it for THE ROAD, and Cronin for THE PASSAGE. When I realize I'm reading dialogue adn not description, it's like a speedbump to my reading flow.

  8. I should clarify that not all the dialogue in THE PASSAGE is done without quotes. In case that's a deal-breaker for anyone.

  9. Indigo: Good point! And that's how it was with Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. The book was so amazing that I quickly got over my annoyance at the italics.

    C.N.: Also a good point. The second book of Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series does this with the alternating first person POV, and it's brilliantly done.

    Jody: I know what you mean about the rules! Of course I think the maxim is that you can't break the rules until you first learn to play by them.

    Matthew: It's tough trying to write a message into a story. It's a difficult balance. But you'll figure it out :)

    Sherrie: Holy wow! I loved it. It reminded me of the best of Judy Blume. Such a sweet, heart-warming book.

    Emily: One of the books I'm looking forward to is YOU by Charles Benoit. It's a second person POV and I'm really curious to see if the risk pays off.

    Shan: Oh no! I'm getting ready to read The Passage. He does the same thing?

  10. MT Anderson did a talk on expiremental and rule-breaking fiction at SCBWI LA this year... it blew my mind and made me want to write a novel in latin without even learning the language first.

  11. Shit, did I spell "experimental" wrong?

    I mean, I did that, you know, on purpose and stuff.


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