Friday, November 10, 2006

"THE NOTEBOOK" ... and The Rules

Well, THE NOTEBOOK won in my recent quandary over what to read next.

When a book or a movie is very successful, sometimes you've heard so much about it that it's hard for it to live up to all the hubbub. I'm happy to say that THE NOTEBOOK lived up to the hubbub. So for the past couple of days, I've been trying to put my finger on just how Nicholas Sparks did it.

One thing he didn't do was follow conventional structure. The book opens with a framing story, which certainly isn't unheard of, but then the framing story takes center stage for the last third or so of the book. And the "flashback" story doesn't start at the beginning of the relationship, but begins just before the couple is about to reunite for the first time since their summer romance ended 14 years before. And the flashback begins with about thirty pages of backstory to summarize the summer romance and how they ended up where they are today....

It sounds like it wouldn't work. Nicholas Sparks breaks The Rules we writers are told to follow, six ways from Sunday. So what makes it work? Well, the story has some deep emotional themes that pack a heck of a punch by the end, but it takes a while to build up to that point. What keeps us reading?

Maybe it's the writer's conviction. The book sounds convincing, sincere, real. Maybe it's the writer's style -- one of the review quotes on my copy calls it "lyrical," and I think that's a really good word for it. Sometimes you're wowed by the beauty of the language ... but more often, you're not thinking about the writing, you're just drawn in by its deceptive simplicity.

Oh, heck. A literary critic I'm not. The point is, it works. End of story.

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