28 September, 2012

If You Had To Avoid A Common Literary Technique, Which Would It Be?

By Jonathan Joseph Bondhus, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
And what I mean by "common literary technique" can best be explained by examples: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, which has no dialogue; Gadsby, which has no letter "e"s; the multitude of books that don't have an actual main character/protagonist (per se); the many novels that have no chapter breaks or even scene divisions; the stories that never give the main character a name; books written in only dialogue with no explicit author voice.

Personally, I think it would be quite interesting to try writing a story without any references at all to the setting. I love setting--my favorite genre is (as you probably already know already) Science Fiction, with Fantasy very close behind--but working only with characters could be a worthwhile experiment. Haven't tried it yet, but who knows. I might.

What do you think? Would you ever try breaking the rules this way? Have you already tried, and if so, how did it work out?

Also: I know I've been relatively inactive in the blogosphere recently. A busier schedule--including, just this week, a stint of visits to the doctor, plus a cold (the latter of which is possibly related to visiting the hospital three days in a row despite getting a flu vaccine; or maybe my cold is because of the flu vaccine)--has confused my blogging time, but I'll try to stick to a better regimen so I can get back to reading your blogs on a regular basis.

And in case you're wondering, yes, test results were negative and I'm fine. Except for consuming too many cough drops.

-----The Golden Eagle


Jai Joshi said...

I'd avoid the no dialogue technique. I couldn't do that one to save my life. I love dialogue, it livens up a page like nothing else.

I've been wanting to write a book that's nothing but dialogue. Maybe I will, one day.


L.G.Smith said...

I do admire Cormac McCarthy's choice to just write the story and not worry about quotation marks for dialogue sometimes. He just says what the characters should say and moves on.

Glad to hear you are okay!

Shelly said...

Well that is interesting. What would I leave out...I don't know to be honest. Maybe what people look like and wear.

Hugs and chocolate,

Belle said...

When you talked about no setting it made me think of movies where everything takes place in one room or house like, "Separate Tables". I like lots of dialog and interesting characters.

Liz said...

Books that don't name the main character fascinate me. If I could get away with that, I would try it.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I'm working on something now that plays with form a little bit. It twists the conventions of scene and POV somewhat. (I don't feel comfortable saying more until the book is farther along!)

I think it's great to do challenges like this, especially if the challenge works well with the particular story and isn't just a gimmick. David Levithan, for example, is good at doing new and unusual things with form (as in EVERY YOU, EVERY ME and THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY), but it fits the work and doesn't seem gimmicky.
In Steve Brezenoff's BROOKLYN, BURNING, we never learned the gender of the two main characters (they were referred to as "I" and "you," and by the gender-neutral nicknames Kid and Scout).

mshatch said...

I have a hard enough time without making things more difficult. I'll leave this sort of stretching to others - for now.

Andrew Leon said...

Yeah, I'd play around with unusual structures. Actually, I'd really like to try a 2nd person novel, not that that hasn't been done before, but I'd still like to do it.

Pat Hatt said...

I'm sure I could do 100,000 word novel all in rhyme, that would be a fun time haha

Shelley said...

Hmmmmm, interesting question. I think I'd try to write in only poems and rhymes! :)

Sun Singer said...

I've tried a few of these ideas, but found that as I wrote the story I was too conscious of the technique to concentrate on the story itself. So, I haven't liked most of the results. This would be interesting to do in a class or a critique group where everyone tries the same technique at the same time.


prerna pickett said...

I've never given much thought to it, but it could be a great writing exercise if nothing else. And I love dialogue too much to completely cut it out.

Hildred said...

I already write novels with no chapter breaks, so that's out. :P (And as for how it works out, I like that there's no pace killing, but I've had a couple people ask if this was 'normal'. Well, for me it is. And it used to be really normal anyway. Now chapter breaks are the norm. Then again I also write in omni. I'm so old-fashioned.)

I'm really interested in writing a short story (that's not flash fiction) that's nothing but dialogue. I once read Hemingway's shorts like that and really loved it. Sigh.

Sue Ann Bowling said...

I have several chapters of my WIP that are pure dialog--not even tags. But their purpose is to cue the reader that there is a conspiracy without reveling the plotters.

Donna Hole said...

Hmmm; well, I don't think I could do without character. So, I could sacrifice plot if characters and setting immerse me.

Wow, this was a good question to consider and evaluate what my writing priorities are. Thanks.


the writing pad said...

Great post and very thought-provoking. I've enjoyed writing several short, hopefully humorous, pieces, purely in dialogue. It wasn't a conscious decision, just seemed the way the stories wanted to come out. Not sure I could tackle a full length piece like that, though - unless maybe in the form of a play??

Nicole MacDonald said...

I find it curious that the more I learn the 'rules' the more I observe the big 6 published authors breaking them.

JeffO said...

I hope you feel better! Being sick...bleah.

I have written a short (if 30 pages is short) story with an unnamed main character. No name presented itself to me, and while one reader asked about it, I think the anonymity fits the piece really well. I also wrote a short that was all dialogue between three people. It was well-received in my writer's circle, but, after seeing The Big Lebowski, I realized it was too much like the interactions between The Dude, Walter, and Donny. Eerily so. Haven't tried anything so 'daring' in longer fiction, though.

JeffO said...


"I find it curious that the more I learn the 'rules' the more I observe the big 6 published authors breaking them"

Established author have earned the leeway to go out on a limb, but a lot of debut authors get away with being daring because they do it well. I believe the only real rule of writing is 'if it works, it works.'

Amanda the Aspiring said...

Oooh…hmm…I'd probably try the no dialogue one. It'd be a challenge to keep things moving, I think. Also, if one is writing in first person, it's pretty easy to get around, if necessary—I could just write "So-and-so said such-and-such", without technically including any dialogue. =P I'm not even going to do it, and I'm already looking for loopholes to be lazy. XD

Oh! Oh! There's one that I've done before—writing in objective. No thoughts or feelings, just dialogue and observations. Nuance is the key there; I had a lot of fun playing with it. =)

Hope you're feeling better! ^_^

Connie Keller said...

Hmm. I haven't thought about it much before, mostly because I've read several experimental books (took a class in experimental modernism in college) and, honestly, found them pretty annoying. But I've thought that if they broke only one rule instead of multiple rules maybe they would've been better.

Glad to hear your feeling better. We've had a nasty cold at our house too. The cold led to my son getting an infection in the lymph nodes near his appendix. The doctor thought he was going to need an appendectomy. But finally they figured out was wrong, and he's doing much better now.

mooderino said...

Sometimes I try to visulaise a scene like a silent movie to see to see if I can get what people are doing to better reflect how they're feeling. Not sure I could write a whole book like that, though.

Moody Writing

....Petty Witter said...

Hoping you are feeling better.

I find no chapters so annoying and doubly so as it seems to be a technique used by lots of authors lately.

But what I found most annoying recently and is a technique I think should be banned was the author who continually used ampersand instead of writing the word 'and' - aggghhhhh.

Rachel Morgan said...

How can you write a book with no "e"s?! That's some skill.

I've never thought of trying something different like this ... Perhaps a book with all dialogue. That would certainly be easier for me than NO dialogue!

Charles Gramlich said...

I have written stories with no dialogue. I'm not a big fan of most dialogue anyway.

Mikazuki said...

I think these sort of things are very interesting. In particular, books that don't mention the main character's name intrigue me. That's a cool idea, to leave out the setting. I doubt I could pull something like that off, though--plus, there's so much symbolic potential in surroundings!

Have you read Glaciers by any chance? It's a shortish novel by Alexis M. Smith, and it's amazing. It only covers a little over a day in the main character's life, and there are no quotation marks despite lots of dialogue. I kind of like it when books use that technique. It makes the book seems quieter, somehow, and more subtle. It can interfere with the reading sometimes, but for the most part it just serves to establish a tone.

Deniz Bevan said...

All dialogue might be interesting. I'd like to write something in first person - still haven't written anything novel length that wasn't in third!

Jamie Gibbs said...

I really enjoy it when an author changes the game a little bit. Alden Bell (and from what I've heard, Cormac McCarthy) don't use dialogue tags at all in their novels. That's pretty cool.

Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi GE .. the concept sounds interesting but I've not thought about it ...

I do hope you feel better soon - cheers Hilary

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Going to the hospital for tests is never fun. I'm glad you're doing well.
As for rule breaking. The biggest thing I ever did was introduce a second POV mid-book, but now that I've rewritten and put her up front, I guess that doesn't count! However, I am writing one character in first present and one in third past so that's a challenge.

Laura said...

Very glad to hear that you're okay - and hope you get over that cough-drop overdose soon.

I've only got as playful as writing in second person as an experiment - but it was quite interesting... I like the idea of going dialogue only though
Laura x

Elise Fallson said...

I'd like to get rid of speech tags. Like a lot of people, I enjoy good dialogue and I wouldn't mind trying to write strictly dialogue, but without he said/she said attributes.

The Golden Eagle said...

Jai: I could see myself trying no-dialogue, but I do like verbal character interaction.

I've done that with some flash fiction. It's a lot of fun. :)

L.G.: No quotation marks? That's interesting!

Thanks. :)

Shelly: I've read books where there's little emphasis on people's physical appearances. It helps bring across the personality through the character's actions and speech.

Belle: I've never heard of Separate Tables. Sounds interesting!

Liz: I read one recently. The MC was just referred to as "the boy".

Jennifer: Hope it works out the way you want it to. I like the idea of changing scene and POV.

I need to read more books by David Levithan. I read a book he co-wrote (with John Green) but nothing he did on his own.

Mshatch: I know what you mean. Plot, characters, and setting are already a challenge. :P

Andrew: Same here! I love second person, though I can't see it working for some kinds of stories.

Pat: I know I couldn't. You're the blogosphere's master of rhyme. :)

Shelley: I love stories written in poetry.

Malcolm: I agree. It would be interesting to compare people's results.

Prerna: I could see myself cutting out dialogue. I like it, but I love describing character interactions.

Hildred: I've used omni and no chapter breaks, too. :)

I need to read some Hemingway . . .

Sue: It's fun when authors do that. Frustrating (in a good way), but very intriguing.

Donna: I'm the opposite, actually. I don't think I could sacrifice plot. :P

You're welcome! I was afraid it would come across as a silly question . . .

The writing pad: Thank you.

A script would be a lot easier to write with just dialogue, I think. The actors and stagehands can take care of the rest. :P

Nicole: Interesting point!

JeffO: Thanks. I am feeling better today--I think by tomorrow I'll be over the cold.

It's so frustrating when you come across a work of fiction close to your own. I wrote a book that was in present-tense and very stream-of-consciousness with short lines and lots of dialogue, thinking it was a fairly original thing . . . and then read The Chaos Walking Trilogy.

Amanda: LOL. I do that, too.

I love the idea of writing with an impassive perspective toward events.

Thank you! I am. :)

Connie: Too many broken rules can leave a bit of a mess behind, it's true. Some just conflict with each other, instead of contrasting.


I'm so glad to hear he's better. I remember your post last week about it.

The Golden Eagle said...

Mood: Interesting strategy. It sounds like it could really help nailing body language and other subtle details dialogue would wash out.

Petty Witter: Thank you! I'm almost over my cold, I think.

I don't mind no chapter breaks, but it is harder to figure out where to stop. Maybe that's the idea? :P

That's a strange formatting choice. It would drive me up the wall, too!

Rachel: I know, it amazes me.

It could be a fun experiment. :)

Charles: Dialogue has to be done well to work. A lot of stories would probably be better if there was less or none at all, in some cases.

Mikazuki: They intrigue me, too.

Thanks. I know I'd miss setting if I tried leaving it out--but as an experiment, it might be interesting to try. :)

Nope, I've never heard of it. I'll have to put it on my TBR list.

Deniz: I love third person; two of my three finished novels have been in third, though my second was first. I like it better, I have to say.

Jamie: It sounds cool!

Hilary: Thank you. :)

Tricia: Thanks! Feeling better now, at least. Tomorrow I might finally be over the cold.

I like the idea of mixing two tenses like that. It's an unusual tactic!

Laura: LOL. Thank you--I've stopped eating the cough drops now, and my system seems a lot happier (even if my throat is a little sore).

It could be fun to write a novel that way!

Elise: There are a lot of alternatives to speech tags. It's impressive when an author doesn't use them.

Rusty Webb said...

I'd like to write a book with no use of dialog attribution at all. Just to see if there is a way to make that all stay straight.

linda said...

Actually, I'd love to read something like that. I'm not much of a setting reader in general, even though I like SFF. I'm the kind of reader who tends to skim long descriptions and care more for plot and characterization.

Corvus Press UK said...

Interesting idea. Not sure what I would do. Evelyn Waugh never described people but let infer from their dialogue. I have been writing a short story as a stream of consciousness, which has been interesting.

DWei said...

I'd like to try writing a story where the 4th wall is broken. Where the characters a character knows he's just a work of fiction.

Simon Kewin said...

Lots of interesting suggestions! I've long wanted to write a story where the narrative flow of cause and effect is broken by, I don't know, some sort of time machine disaster. So scenes are presented more or less randomly. Probably be a tough read though...

Beth said...

I'd like to write a book that relies heavily on the second person like Brooklyn Burning.

cleemckenzie said...

Let's see . . . Yes. Yes. Yes.

I loved Meg Rosoff's book. In fact, I've read two of her books and enjoyed both. She got mixed reviews and I'm sure that was because she "stretched" some of the traditional literary rules. Something I love to do. In my first book, Sliding on the Edge, I had two POVs; one in first person, present and one in third person past. People either loved it or hated it. At least I stirred some reaction. Great post.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I think before I break any rules, I need to hone my craft within the rules until I'm really comfortable with it. That may take a few more years.

Emily R. King said...

I'd use adverbs. LOTS of lovely, beautiful, intuitive, descriptive, over-the-top adverbs. Ha!

Lauren said...

Interesting thought. I'd leave out as much description as possible. Basically turning it into almost a reformatted screenplay.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Sometimes you can use techniques and it works out great because its done right. I guess it really depends on how its used. But I love breaking the rules. Who doesn't?

Thanks for posting!

The Golden Eagle said...

Rusty: It seems like there would be, if just through describing character actions after their dialogue.

Linda: I'll let you know when it's on the shelves. :)

Corvus Press UK: I wrote a book that was somewhat stream of consciousness; I don't think I'd really want to do it again, but it was a fun experiment.

DWei: I've read stories like that . . . can't think of any titles off the top of my head. There was a good story in Daily Science Fiction where the narrator was sentient, though:


Simon: Sounds awesome. I love complicated stories. :)

Beth: Second person novels are great.

Cleemckenzie: Are any of her other books written in the same style? I've only read How I Live Now.

Thank you!

Michael: Good point. You have to understand how to use the rules effectively before you can break them well.

Emily: Effective adverbs are awesome.

Lauren: I just finished writing a screenplay; it's an interesting contrast between description-rich novels and bare-bones screenplays.

Jael: It's fun to try things a different way. :)

You're welcome!

Ghadeer said...

If I had the guts to, I'd probably write a book which don't specify names, genders or age for characters. I'd like to see how that turns out.

Get well soon! x

David P. King said...

I can't see myself having a reason to break any techniques. I think it would distract me, and maybe distract readers. There's always the possibility, though. :)

Jack said...

I want to try and write a story where the main character is completely mysterious. He NEVER speaks, no one EVER learns anything about him, and they NEVER learn his name. That is my goal in life, writing wise.

Madeleine Sara said...

Hmmm interesting question. I'm not that keen on those devices though I would like to try second person POV if not for a whole novel then for a short story.
The not describing the setting might be like hearing voices in a white washed room or akin to sensory deprivation LOL!

nutschell said...

interesting! I'd like to try writing a book with no main POV:)


The Golden Eagle said...

Ghadeer: It would be cool to try. Finding out what people thought the characters were like would be especially interesting. :)


David: I don't tend to find it too distracting unless it's done ineffectively--then it does look like a gimmick.

Jack: I love that idea!

Madeleine: I want to try second person sometime, too.

I'd like to see the reaction of readers to it. :)

Nutschell: Read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. There are a lot of different POVs in that book.