I don't know about you, but I don't read books backwards. I also don't write them backwards, or out of any sort of order. I write from Page One all the way to The Last Page, and that's that. I usually edit as I go. When I read, it's still from Page One all the way to The Last Page (imagine that). Sometimes, if I like a book enough, I'll finish it and go back to re-read specific scenes that seemed especially poignant to me. Sometimes I'll underline them and make notes in the margins.
The past few days I've been reading a book that has a linear plotline, but it's told in such a way that I see the story outside of itself, in a nonlinear way. I have to admit this fascinates me to no end. I don't even know if I can do it justice in any sort of description, or if I'd ever be able to pull off something like that. Still, I think it's fun to explore. Some things I've noticed are:
Plot Doesn't Matter So Much
I've noticed that the stories I fall in love with the most always exist outside of plot. Plot matters - in linear terms, at least. When you start to think about story outside of linear existence, things become clearer. For instance, in the novel I'm reading, the plot is so ridiculously simple that all I can say about it is that someone dies and people think about it (and a lot of other things). It's so unlike the novels you see being published by the thousands these days (including my own stuff!) that it's like a breath of fresh air. As it did in college, it's opening my eyes just a bit wider as to what storytelling really is, what it can be, and what I can do to improve my own storytelling skills.
The Storytelling is the Story
I tend to think about my novel, Monarch, in a sort of cycle that goes somewhat like this: This story is so commercial. It's about a spy. Whoopdedoo. It's nothing special. Typical thriller. But. Wait. No, it's different. I'm telling this story in a different way than you see most spy thrillers told. It's sitting on the edge of something else. It's unique. It's worth reading because the way I tell the three interweaving stories is part of the actual story. As crazy as that sounds.
I don't know if that makes any sense, but what I'm trying to get at is that form can be as much a story as plot, character, and all those other elements. It can be its own story, and that's so exciting to me that I almost salivate in anticipation just thinking about writing or reading anything with that application. I barely brush on it in Monarch, but it's there.
The Language Loses You
I'll admit that the book I'm reading now scares me. A lot. I'll get lost sometimes. Confused. What is this author doing? The fact that I keep reading and can't stop turning the pages says something. The way words string together, the images playing in my head, I could care less where the heck the story is going, what's happening, who the characters are. I'm lost in the words, and I love it. For awhile, when I finish a book like this, I feel kind of cheated in straight linear fiction, which is almost like wading in a shallow pool rather than the deepest part of the ocean. It's where my love of fiction truly took form when I was studying in college. That ocean. That place where words are words are words, and like a stripped bone, they gleam bright under the sun and make you squirm. They make you grow.
I've rambled on long enough. I think one of the points I'm getting at here is to not necessarily write or read in nonlinear terms, but think in nonlinear terms. When that happens, you start to step outside of a box you probably didn't even realize surrounded you. I'll be talking more about this book and telling you the title and author in one of the Literary Lab's first podcasts. So keep an eye out!
What about you? Do you try to think of storytelling outside the box? Does this scare you? Fascinate you? Does anything I've said make sense at all?