Thursday, September 13, 2012

Books Using Various Devices to Forward the Plot


Reading a book now, and it is far from the first, that uses text messages, emails, notes, phone calls, etc. to move the plot along.

How do you feel about this? A little goes a long way for me. I realize a novel set in today's world has to draw from it, but it gets tiring reading who it was that sent the message, who received it, the date, etc.

And yes, I know John Dos Passos was an early believer in story lines composed from letters, headlines, graphics, etc. Loved him and loved the graphics but maybe not the rest.

How open are you toward using various devices to move the plot along?

20 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I actually think it can be powerful. One of CJ Box's Joe Pickett novels does that and there are others too. I don't know that whole chapters have to be written that way but including a text, an email or something? Sure. It can make a story feel more natural since so many people do that.

Jerry House said...

I'm open on the subject. "Ed McBain" used these devices to good effect in his 87th Precint novels. Epistolatory novels and short stories have been around forever, sometimes to good effect.

As with many an approach, it can fall flat but I am willing to give these efforts a try. (But I am also willing to throw the book across the room in disgust.)

I think it boils down to the author's talent and whether the author is using this as an approach or a gimmick.

Ron Scheer said...

I think it's in the DNA of the novel. Wasn't one of the first novels, PAMELA (1740), made up entirely of letters?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yep. But I have never like it. It always seems more static to me than actually showing the action played out. And now with all the social media interaction, the story becomes even more diffuse.

eviljwinter said...

Like anything else, it depends. Years ago, I did a short story on the old blog that itself was in the form of a blog post (loosely based on the Wonkette blog) and its accompanying comments.

Not sure I'd want someone to do a modern day Dracula, since modern epistolary is laced with 7337speak (Leet Speack, like "LOL") and emoticons and signature files.

Used within the story makes a lot of sense. People have used notes and letters and even newspaper articles for centuries to move plots along. Done properly, this is not any different.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Has everyone read the story Wikihistory from a few years ago? Great stuff.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/08/wikihistory

Anonymous said...

I agree that it depends on the writer and how well it's done. Too many current references can date a novel in a deadly way. Stephen King is notorious for product placement in his books, for instance. Similarly, letters and texts can work if done well.

I happen to like novels written in the form of diaries or letters but not everyone can bring it off. Try Ruth Rendell's ANNA'S BOOK (written as by Barbara Vine) for one example.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brian. Great story.

For those too lazy to go there, here is the link.

Jeff M.

Deb said...

(Possible duplicate post--sorry!)

I'm in the little goes a long way corner. I gave up on one of Reginald Hill's final Dalziel & Pascoe mysteries because half of it was written in the form of emails--complete with misspellings and incorrect punctuation--from a young woman. On the other hand, it makes no sense to pretend the technology doesn't exist. I recently finished a novel where much of the plot revolved around certain characters being unaware of information that could easily have been communicated via a phone call. I kept thinking, "Jeez, pick up a cell phone already!" There wasn't a single mention of cell phones or any other technology in the entire book. Weird.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have it bookmarked. Thanks.
It drives me crazy in books like ELLA, MINNOW, PEA.

Kieran Shea said...

I love it. As long as it's used judiciously like a seasoning....

Al Tucher said...

I also gave up on that Hill book, Deb.

George said...

Ron, CLARISSA by Samuel Richardson is an epistolatory heavy-weight: over 1000 pages long! I'm with Patti on this issue: a little goes a long way.

Deb said...

Glad I wasn't the only one, Al. I really wanted to like it and finish it--Dalziel & Pascoe are two if my favorite detective duos--and I gave it probably 50 pages more than I would have any other writer, but eventually it defeated me. It didn't help that the other half if the book was written as if Dalziel was speaking into a hidden dictaphone.

John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
neer said...

Hi Patti

Her's my entry for FFB: The King's General by Daphne du Maurier

http://inkquilletc.blogspot.in/2012/09/forgotten-book-kings-general-by-daphne.html

Thanks.

Richard R. said...

I dislike it, a lot. It always seems like a gimmick to me, and if the author had the writing skills I think a writer should have, the story could be told in the traditional way. Perhaps the author thought "don't tell them, show them" meant they should do this. They would be wrong in that instance.

Yvette said...

Don't mind it at all as long as the device fits the grand scheme of things. Though I am not crazy about reading lots of emails in the middle of a story.

But I love epistolary novels.

I also love Brian Selznick's words and picture books.

LOVE books which use a diary as the main device. i.e. DRACULA.

As Jerry says, '...it boils down to the author's talent...'

Thomas Pluck said...

Maybe I'm missing the point.
Tell No One, Harlan Coben. Great thriller. Revolves around an email.
But yes, it takes a certain amount of skill to craft an exciting story that revolves around communication of any sort without being a gimmick.
I don't mind when sleuths and so on communicate via text, but find it best done with "Remy texted me the location and said to hurry" than
"2 bebop drive in latin qtr HURRY 1 <3 U!!!"

Charles Gramlich said...

If it works, I'm down with it. Too often in my experience it doesn't work and is distracting. Then I toss the book aside.