Breaking The Rules

Recently I finished a book by Tim Johnston called DESCENT.  I loved the book, but the reason I wanted to blog about it is related to the way he wrote it versus an actual review of the story.

I’ve heard over and over, from reading articles online, to comments by other writers, and even in a variety of ways spouted by the magnificent Shark herself, if the writing is stellar, you can get away with just about anything.  For instance, recently on her blog we discussed the use of italicized words.  Generally, La Sharque and others felt that keeping italics to a minimum, to emphasize a character’s internal thoughts, or a specific word, was the best use.

So.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered page upon page upon page of italicized words within DESCENT.  And.  And.  Tim Johnston didn’t use it for only one character, or to signal he was dipping into backstory, he used the font “at will,” and by that, I mean when he thought the story needed it.  It is written in third person omniscient, allowing Johnston to reveal the thoughts and feelings of several characters.  Father, mother, son, daughter, sheriff, sheriff’s brother, all get their turns, although a good chunk of it is written from the son’s and father’s view.  The one character you don’t get into the head of, which is probably what amps up the suspense, is the primary antagonist.  The one the daughter refers to as “The Monkey.”

When the italicized chapters pop up (yes, full chapters in italics) you sometimes don’t immediately know from whose perspective you’re getting that part of the story.  There are a couple areas where the italicized chapters are back to back.  You start to think he’s carrying on from the previous character’s perspective, only to find out, it’s now shifted to someone else.  This is resolved fairly quick as you read a sentence or two.

Does this sound like it would have been the wrong thing to do?  I have to wonder and more than that, admire the skill of this decision, because it works.  I’ll admit, I had get used to it, and I definitely had to pay attention as things began to happen, but all in all, because the writing is so good, it didn’t take a thing away, and what I might have thought of as a distraction, wasn’t.  As a matter of fact, I almost got to where I felt a small jump of excitement when I turned a page to find the beginning of an italicized chapter because those parts seemed so significant to the story.  Honestly though, the overall story itself was so well done, I didn’t care what fonts were used.

And that’s really the point of this post.  If you can write a story, and write it in such a way as to grab a reader from the first sentence, they won’t care what you do with fonts or much of anything else.  Hook me, and at that point, I won’t care about anything but the story.

Some writers break the rules, but, who cares, if the story is that good?

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