This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Most books have a beginning – middle – end dynamic and offer a main protagonist to follow. Of course not every book follows the same pattern. Some are written in third person, some in first. Some are linear whilst others jump back and forth through time. Some are written in the standard narrative style, others in letters or emails. So what is the best style to really grab a reader? It’s great to break new ground but not if it is too jarring and makes for awkward, uncomfortable reading.
Take letters for example. There is no dialogue, no break in the story. It is simply ‘Dear…’ and then a diatribe of what’s going on. Letters are difficult because it is one person’s voice and offers no alternative, no reprieve. So if the reader does not take to that one voice then they are lost forever. Where it worked: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.
Similarly, the diary style has the same issues to contend with. The only real difference is that the diary is to nobody in particular. It is solely for the writer and as a result can be far less reserved and far more compelling. Though, depending on the text, reading someone’s diary can feel too voyeuristic or worse, too self-effacing. Where it worked: The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
Many books have opted for the inclusion of transcribed interviews or reports. These are far more formal in style and scientific and rigid in the execution but if done correctly can be just as compelling as a standard narrative. Where it worked: World War Z by Max Brooks.
While some books opt for one dramatic change, there have been some that have gone all out and used a combination of styles such as Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: which included a mixture of styles including emails, reports and much more. None have pulled it off quite so spectacularly, however, as Cloud Atlas. This book incorporated not just six different storylines but six different styles: including a letter, diary, transcribed interview and more. Breathtaking in its scope and complexity, this is the most ambitious book I’ve ever read. Where it worked: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
One of the most difficult stylistic changes for a writer to contend with, I imagine, is that of time travel. When the characters are jumping back and forth through time, it must be very difficult to keep up with who’s doing what and when. Sometimes, however, time travel really can add a whole new dimension to an otherwise straightforward story. Where it worked: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
Do you prefer the straightforward narrative or does a shift in style grab you more? As ever, let us know in the comments.