Friday, May 22, 2009

Unusual styles

I recently read a book which didn’t use quotation marks to indicate characters’ speech, and that started me thinking about two of the quirky or original styles I’ve seen in fiction.

Stephen King’s was the first that came to mind, partly because I enjoyed his way of putting italicized words and phrases into his stories, both to give those words added emphasis and to break up the paragraphs of the narrative. It produced a sense of
(reading between the lines)
an undercurrent, of being aware of something on more than a conscious level. It heightened the suspense and tension brilliantly.

A similar technique was used in the start of a story I once read. I’ve forgotten the title and the author’s name, but the story had small, tantalizing glimpses of future action in italics. So it would have gone something like this.

Three days’ vacation was all Julie could afford, so she had only a single suitcase. She unpacked it quickly, taking out clothes, sunblock… and the knives, not sharpened, it lasts longer that way… and her new camera.

The book which didn’t use quotation marks was an ARC of Norman Ollestad’s Crazy for the Storm, though I remember this quirk from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain as well. I think this technique is used to produce an uncluttered impression of the story, a sense of smoothness and quiet as spoken speech flows at the same level as the rest of the text, rather than being set apart in any way.

Unfortunately, I had to work a little harder to distinguish when characters were speaking. Although this might well have been the effect the authors were hoping for (Quentin Tarantino has said that the events in his films aren’t in chronological order because he likes the audience figuratively chasing the film), it also meant I’m not likely to read such books for enjoyment or relaxation.

And while this may be just me, sometimes the technique worked too well. The words drifted up from somewhere within the narrative itself, rather than emanating from the mouths of the characters. That was a little too literary.

I’d rather styles not be excessively quirky; if I want to read something without capital letters or with only one word per line, there’s always e. e. cummings. But distinctive styles in fiction are often memorable – both in good and bad ways.


Anonymous said...

It was like that with Cold Mountain--the dialogue was marked with dashes:

- You want to go to the store, George? -

It was very hard to follow, and I started feeling like the characters were talking telepathically!

Maria Zannini said...

I remember this about Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. It took me several pages to get used to the quirky style and I almost put it down. Luckily, the novel kept me invested enough until I got used to the style and it became less intrusive.

JH said...

James Joyce began lines of dialog with dashes so that technique is A-OK with me.

Hazardgal said...

I just read a story from Fran Friel's Mama's Boy that had a character in therapy retelling/reliving parts of other conversations. Triple quotation marks were used with an apostrophe at the end of those parts. Is that new?

Marian Perera said...

That would be the first time I've heard of triple quotation marks used, though I've seen telepathy denoted by asterisks and pointy brackets (can't remember their exact name right now).

Those seem easier to spot than triple quotation marks.

Paul Lamb said...

Well, stay away from Jose Saramago then. He doesn't even bother with punctuation.

Marian Perera said...

What no punctuation at all Wow

Im trying to imagine how pages and pages of that must read especially with action scenes that also contain dialogue Hopefully he uses capital letters because otherwise there might be no way to distinguish one sentence from another Thanks for sharing that ;)

Angela Ackerman said...

I don't mind different techniques when they don't make me think too hard. The whole point is to pull you into the story, so any style arobics have to be smooth enough to drag them in deeper, not pull them away from it.

Still, great things can be done!

JH said...

I don't mind different techniques when they don't make me think too hard. The whole point is to pull you into the story,

There is, on the other hand, the "form = content" school, where the point is, in fact, to think about how the author says something rather than what. Personally, I'm not a fan. I don't mind having to think really hard to "get" a book, as long as I am thinking about what the author is saying, rather than trying to decipher some new gimmick form of punctuation.

Polenth said...

Odd layout tends to throw me with stories. The words start moving on the page and I can no longer read them. Tricks that have done it are no quotations marks, missing out other punctuation and overly long paragraphs.