What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen while you’re halfway through a James Patterson novel? Right. Misplacing it. One of the books I’m currently reading is Four Blind Mice by James Patterson and yesterday I realized I didn’t know where I’m left it. I knew I’d been reading it while I was lying in the bed, but I didn’t see it anywhere around my bed. I knew I’d had it in my purse when I was at work, so I told myself that maybe I took it out and left it in my classroom. I suffered withdrawals all evening, wanting to finish that book. But I picked up Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison to hold me over until I could get back to Patterson’s book.
When I got to work, the book wasn’t there. Now what, I wondered. Right. I went to the bookstore after work and bought another copy of the book. You might be wondering what does this have to do with breaking rules, Rosalind. I’ll tell you.
When I bought the new copy of the book, I was going through the pages trying to find where I’d left off. As I was re-reading some of the chapters, I realized I was jumping around in characters’ heads. At one point, I was reading first person point of view in Alex Cross’ head and then I was reading third person limited in a seemingly insignificant character’s head and then I was back to first person point of view inside John Sampson’s (Alex Cross’ friend and partner) head. I hadn’t noticed it before because I was so caught up in the story. Patterson is one of those writers who tells a story and it catches you up from page one and you just don’t want to put the book down until you’ve finished the story. Reading it this way, I realized Patterson was definitely breaking a rule. My mind flashed back to one of the video “lectures” from James Patterson’s MasterClass where he mentioned that sometimes he jumps around like that.
Now, I’ve been telling (and I’m sure other writing teachers have as well) my students to choose a point of view and stick with it. We tell them to choose the one that will help them tell the best story. When I was workshopped not long ago, one of the critiques was that I’d shifted point of view. I, of course, fixed it in the revisions. But who’s going to tell Patterson that he’s doing it wrong? No one. It works. For Patterson.
When I was looking for his book tonight at the bookstore, I had to scan four shelves of books (all Patterson novels) to find the one I was looking for. Breaking the rules works for him. But I’d venture to say it works because he learned the rules first and then realized that to achieve what he wanted to, he needed to break the rules. So, yes, break the rules. But learn them first. So you’ll know why you need to break them.
As I was writing this post, I recalled a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” In other words, be you, do you and don’t worry about what anybody else is doing. If it feels right for your story, it’s probably right.
Peace & Love,
P.S. I found the other Patterson book. It had fallen under my bed and I hadn’t stretched my arms long enough under there to reach it. Still, there’s a moral here. Despite the fact that Patterson tends to break a rule or two, the fact still remains that he tells a story so well that when you misplace a book while you’re in the middle of reading it, you will run right out and buy the book because you just can’t wait to finish it.