“Write what you know. Show don’t tell. Make your protagonists likable, your characters round, and your adverbs disappear. Writers are constantly told these rules, and others. Bookstores are filled with detailed guides to the rules of writing mysteries or science fiction or horror. MFA workshops critiques debate if Chekov’s gun was fired at the right time. But the simultaneously thrilling and terrifying part of writing fiction is that there are no rules. Anything can happen, and it can be written in any form. The rules of novel writing are really just guidelines for what typically works, most of the time. Here are ten amazing novels that thumb their noses at the rules while creating utterly unique stories.
Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
A novel must have A) plot B) characters C) setting D) a beginning, middle, and end. Unless you’re Alejandro Zambra, in which case the answer is E) none of the above. Zambra’s brilliant 2016 novel is both simple and impossible to describe. Simple to describe because the novel is composed entirely of a series of multiple choice questions (based on the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test of Zambra’s childhood). Impossible because that description hardly captures the emotion, humor, and mystery that Zambra is able to create out of what seems like a gimmick. Multiple Choiceis a slim volume, but it contains multitudes. Zambra revels in the joys of language while also pulling surprising feeling from his fictional test questions.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
If you go to a bookstore, different types of writing are physically separated. Fiction over here, poetry over there, nonfiction on the far wall. Anne Carson’s 1998 ‘novel in verse’ blows all those borders up, mixing scholarship, translations of ancient poetry, verse, and prose narrative all together to create the utterly unique Autobiography of Red. The story of the book is a retelling of the myth of Geryon, one of the monsters that Herakles (or Hercules) faced on one of his famous 12 labors. In Carson’s retelling, Geryon is reimagined as a modern (albeit winged) teenager who falls in love with his mythological enemy.”