Books that shake us up and open our eyes: we’ve all have encountered them at some point in our lives. Often they change the way we think about writing and even the way we write.
I just read an eye-opening interview with thriller meister James Patterson, whose umpteenth novel, a detective story called Unlucky 13. is about to be published. With his mastery of slick, fast-paced page-turners, who’d believe that the novel that inspired his writing style was penned in 18th century England? Here’s the story as he tells it:
“I read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman in 1970 while I was getting my master’s in English at Vanderbilt University. The book’s first two volumes (of nine total!) were published in 1759, but the story unwound like nothing I’d read before; I felt like it must have been written in 2059. How could this author be so much braver than the rest, and how was he able to break every writing rule made? And why was the story so much more fun because of it?
“It really woke me up from a sort of zombie state: As a writer, I didn’t have to follow the rules! I could play around a little bit, learn to trust the right side of my brain, and just let go…….the author, Laurence Sterne, mixes first and third person, throws down sentence fragments, rambles for 20 pages about an odd thought — seems, in short, to do whatever he damn feels. So I admit it! I’m a copier. I copied Sterne’s full-throttle freedom. And I haven’t looked back since.”
I love the way James describes Laurence Sterne as being “braver than the rest,” and how he learned from him about playing around, trusting the right side of his brain, breaking the rules, and just letting go. Full-throttle freedom: isn’t that what writing dangerously is all about? If James and Laurence can do it, then so can we. Write on!