I really enjoyed Debbie's post on Monday about artistic license in story structure, and I enjoyed the several comments to the post. Katy said, "I love it when authors walk the high wire." I love the image that conjures, because, really, don't we all feel like we're working without a net from the first sentence we write to the last, every time we write a novel?
Nicole said, "Rules were made to be broken in my world." We've all heard that saying, of course, along with the caveat that you must know the rules in order to break them. And I completely agree on both counts. But Nicole goes on to say, "If (emphasis mine) the story works, bravo to the one who told it in a different way."
Ah, therein lies the rub.
Because in taking artistic license, we take the chance that it won't work. And not simply that it won't work, but that it could fail miserably, and do so even before it gets past the pub committee.
And then there are the copycats who think "because a long, rambling letter worked for Marilyn Robinson, it'll work for me." Well, probably not. Because the whole idea is to be unique in our breaking of the rules. And once it's done, it's old news. That's not to say another novel written in the form of a letter can't work, and work well; it just means it must break the new rules established by the former rule breaker. See how complicated this becomes? Yet, what's the alternative? Tried and true, safe, ho-hum fiction, of which there's already for more than enough in the world.
Humorist Chris Dunmire writes, "A rule is 1) A guide or principle for governing action; 2) The usual way of doing something ... While guides and principles are in place for good reason, 'the usual way of doing something' as a rule in your creative work is flexible and open to change." http://www.coachingyourcreativity.com/
We must know the difference. A novel written entirely without punctuation breaks point #1 above, to no end. But a novel written as notes between a mother and daughter, left on a refrigerator door, that doesn't just skirt the 'usual way of doing something,' it annihilates it in a most remarkable -- and useful -- way.
Bonnie makes a good point that a "nontraditional structured novel ... needs to adhere to the other aspects of traditional novels -- story arc, character development, and a rich, well-drawn ending." Sort of a breaking-the-rules-while-staying-within-the-rules idea. But none of those elements need to be sacrificed for the sake of creative license. In fact, they must not be.
Had I known all this, I'd have become a novel writer with fear and trembling. Strike that; I would not have become a novel writer at all. I'd have, I don't know, gone into something simpler instead, like black widow spider poison extraction. But you know what they say, ignorance is bliss.
The bottom line is this: successfully breaking the rules in fiction quite often leads to the success of the novel. Or at the very least, it makes the piece memorable. If that's what we're after -- creating successful and memorable books -- we need to do all we can to avoid the usual way of going about it. As we listen to that still small voice, coming from the One who had the power to speak His creative thoughts into existence, we just may find the creative license to take us successfully way, way outside the lines.
Would you take a moment to respond to this impromptu, non-scientific poll? All you need do is post the letter A or B under "Comments." (But feel free to share your thoughts if you have time.)~
A. I prefer a novel that follows a more traditional format as opposed to one that experiments with the rules.
B. I prefer a novel that breaks the rules. Even if it misses the mark, I'm willing to stick with it to the end.
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"Therein lies the rub." A misquote from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
"Devoutly to be wish'd
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream
ay, there's the rub (defined snag or obstacle)
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause; there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;"