You open up a book and it begins with a prologue. Or it doesn’t. Maybe it just starts right off with a chapter and paragraph after paragraph of story. But what if you opened up a book and it didn’t look like that? Sure, you’d be a little put off at first, but that would probably be a really interesting and unique story. You could probably tell that just by the first page because if it doesn’t look the way every other book looks, chances are that author is making some pretty interesting choices in terms of storytelling. Why not be that author?
This is a tough one for me because I’m a pretty ardent fan of the traditional story form. But I have read some books that take a different path in telling their story. For instance, the Princess Diaries series is written in journal format. We learn everything through Mia, the main character, so that also puts us in the hands of a potentially unreliable narrator. The Terry Pratchett books that I’ve read don’t follow the chapter format; they simply tell the story in one big, long chapter. And I know there have been some YA books that are written in text speak.
These are all examples of books that took a different path and decided not to do what all other authors did. And that brings us to today’s advice from Rookie Mag’s Ten Rules for Writers.
Don’t use anything just because “that’s how it always is.” Paragraphing, quotation marks, characters that still go by the same name even though you’ve turned the page: all those are just conventions that exist to serve you. If they don’t work, forget about them. The fact that a particular rule applies in every book you’ve ever read doesn’t mean it has to apply in your book too.
I think this is a pretty revolutionary stance to take. Imagine not using paragraphs, right? But James Joyce once wrote a book entirely in the stream of consciousness style and that book was Ulyssses. It can be done, you can write a story in any way that you like and that way may not conform to the regular, accepted story format. So branch out and don’t be afraid to buck the system!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan