Friday, July 25, 2008

Breaking the Rules



About twenty years ago my sister told me about a book she said she couldn't forget. I looked for it in book shops and libraries on and off for years but never found it. Eventually I forgot about it. Then two weeks ago I went to dinner at a friend's home and she told me to read this book she had just finished. It was the same book - Perfume by Patrick Suskind. I took it, grateful that I had eventually found it.

Well, I've finished it and I'm confused. This book breaks so many of the rules that we are constantly told to follow and yet it is a big enough hit to be made into a film.

First of all, the hero is despicable, odious, completely unsympathetic. Aren't we told to make sure that our characters are likeable, that they invoke sympathy, that even if they are off the tracks, that they have redeemable features that make us want to follow their character growth until they reach a point where we can like them. This chap has no redeeming features and certainly, if his character develops at all - and that is debatable - it's only to become even more horrendous. So why do we follow his story? I suppose because he has this incredible gift and it is the development of that gift that we are fascinated by and which makes us turn each page.

Secondly, we are continually told to 'show, don't tell'. This book 'tells' us the story virtually from the beginning to the end. There is one short section of dialogue and this is written up as in a play with the character's name written, followed by a colon and then his words. The rest is all hearsay - he did this and then said that and then he did this. If we do that in our stories, we are instantly rejected just as we would be for the first point. So why does he get away with it? Certainly it was first published over 20 years ago when the expectations of storytelling were different but it is still popular today.

The other fact I found strange about this book was that while reading the book, I found it difficult to put down and yet when I did manage to, I had little desire to go back to it. Can you see why this book has confused me so much?

21 comments:

raine said...

This book breaks so many of the rules that we are constantly told to follow and yet it is a big enough hit to be made into a film.

Suzanne, I think that's FABULOUS.
Not about the hero being an arsehole, no. But that this author managed to wrench success out of breaking the rules. I'm afraid I'm all for that--not on a regular basis, because that would eventually get tedious too. But the bending and stretching of the rules makes for broader acceptance and a bigger "box". And I'm all for that.

...while reading the book, I found it difficult to put down and yet when I did manage to, I had little desire to go back to it.

Sounds like it intrigued you, but you didn't know why and didn't like the fact that it did. ;)

Suzanne Perazzini said...

It is great, Raine, to see the rules broken but it was also quite disconcerting to read a book like this which goes against everything we have been hammered with.
We, of course, have no chance if we try this - at least not until we are well published. I think the publishing world is very different from 20 years ago.

Suzanne

raine said...

...quite disconcerting to read a book like this which goes against everything we have been hammered with.

Yes it is.
And yes, you're right. Publishing has changed a lot in the past 20 years. But I think the change has been slow and reluctant. Seems like few newbies are allowed to break the 'rules', despite the ongoing cry for 'fresh voices'.
And ironically, once someone steps successfully outside the box, everyone steps with them.
Go figure.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

But the chances of being that person who is allowed to break the rules is probably less than our chances of winning lottery. So we don't dare break them.

Suzanne

vevadreamsgreen said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I love to write; one of the reasons why I started a blog in the first place! The book you mention sounds interesting enough to pick it up and give it a quick look-through; I'll see if I can find it at my Borders.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

You definitely have a natural talent and should pursue your writing. A blog is a good start and a place to meet other writers.
My husband is now reading Perfume and can't put it down and he never reads anything but non-fiction so it certainly has a certain something that catches the attention.

Suzanne

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

I think breaking the rules can sometimes be the secret of success. It's unexpected and intriguing. It's that way with photography, too. You're told all sorts of things not to do, but when the rules are broken, people look at a photo and wonder why they are attracted to it. Maybe sometimes we just like to see something little different.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I agree, Lin, that people want to see something different but the problem is that once you have had your hand smacked a few too many times for doing your own thing, you start to tow the line. That way a lot of natural talent is lost to the world. Schools in particular are guilty of beating the individuality out of children so they grow up to be good citizens. But in the process they lose something wonderful and spontaneous.

Suzanne

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Suzanne, I know I couldn't have read through the book for fear it would bring back some of my old writing habits. When I see a lot of telling, I choose a different book.

I'm glad you enjoyed the book somewhat. It does prove that rules can be broken. I am noticing that with photography more and more. You can create interesting art if you "do your own thing". But writing has stricter rules. I choose to go with the way that is time proven and have had the greatest teacher in the world!!!

Has that author written more books and kept that same writing style? I wonder if it was a first book that just happened to make it.


Hugs, Nancy

Footsteps said...

Suzanne,
I'm behind on your posts (still traveling) but look forward to catching up this week.
I'm intrigued by your review of this book. I guess authenticity beats conventionalities?

Suzanne Perazzini said...

You are funny, Nancy, and thanks for the compliment. I'm sure your bad habits will never return. You were a quick study.
I think you would have much more latitude with photography. Some of the most beautiful photos are quite off the wall.
Yes, he has written others and all have done well but I have read only Perfume, so don't know if he uses the same technique consistently.

Suzanne

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Heather, you seem to be having a great holiday.
Yes, I imagine authenticity always wins out. At least it should.

Suzanne

Bernita said...

This business is the ultimate irony.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

No wonder we writers are confused human beings, Bernita.

Suzanne

Barbara Martin said...

I remember reading that book years ago and found it almost impossible to put down. As to breaking the rules of writing I wasn't writing then, but I'll take you word on it.

Sometimes breaking the rules and writing what your heart desires is most important of all.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Hi Barbara, thank you for visiting. Writing from the heart is good advice.

Suzanne

Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Wild wave, Suzanne. I am back from town with another camera. Am not happy with my landscape photos with the new one I have. Wish me luck. Still no second contract.

Thanks for saying I was a quick study. If I could harness in my errant or missed commas, I'd be all set. :D

Hugs, Nancy

Suzanne Perazzini said...

A wild wave back, Nancy.
The publishing world sure is slow. Your darling agent still hasn't replied to my query after 7 weeks and after a nudge a few days ago.
Enjoy your summer. We are having wild, destructive storms here in New Zealand.

Suzanne

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Suzanne:
I read the book, and I wasn't captivated. But I do agree it was hard to put down. And the reason boils down, I believe, to a totally ORIGINAL and audacious premise. You can break the rules if you have a plot and story and character that is just jaw-droppingly original. I thought the book had one of the more fascinating premises I had ever read.

E

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Hi Erica,
I'd love to know how people come up with those totally original premises for a story. Then, and only then, they can break the rules.
My husband finished it but was disappointed in the second half when it shifted towards the fantastical.
I don't think I would read any of his other books.

Suzanne

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hi,Suzanne,

You must see the movie based on this book. It does many of the same things the book does - it "tells" a lot instead of shows it.

But the director said this was a very difficult story to bring to the screen.

Still...this movie is one that continues to haunt me. I think of it often and I really loved it, even though it broke many of the rules about conveying a good story.

Interesting blog. I'll be back often.

Thanks.

Suzanne Lieurance
The Working Writer's Coach
http://www.workingwriterscoach.com
"When Your Pen Won't Budge, Read The Morning Nudge"