Friday, May 22, 2009
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.