Friday, September 2, 2011

Breaking the Rules

A few previous posts discussed some of the things I've learned about writing. Things like "Start the story close to the action" and "The Inciting Incident should be near the beginning".

Well, I recently read a story that broke both those rules and did so brilliantly. It's no secret that I admire Timothy Hallinan's writing, and QUEEN OF PATPONG is, in my humble opinion, the best work I've read in a long time.

The story opens with a man entering a brothel in Bangkok. He is looking for a woman, not just any woman, a certain woman. You don't know who the man is, but the woman he seeks is a very young (age 16) prostitute appropriately named Toy. Alternating with the brothel scenes are the actions of a Thai police officer. The man exits the brothel with Toy in tow, only to be accosted by the police officer.

Interesting, but it doesn't have much of anything to do with the story. But it is so compelling, that I as the reader didn't mind at all. I loved the opening. The Inciting Incident didn't occur until Chapter 2, and a few pages into the second chapter at that.

So why did he break the rules? I don't have any special insight into the author's mind, but I did pick up a thing or two.

Aside from painting a colorful image of Bangkok street life, several important elements emerge from the chapter. In one of the scenes depicting the police officer, a young woman, ostensibly a hooker, empties the pocket of her "john" in full view of the officer. When the "john" complains, the policeman asks for her name. The "john" didn't know her name. The police officer responds, "in Thailand, everyone has a name." That scene humanizes the hooker, and in effect, humanizes all of Patpong's hookers. They are no longer anonymous faces in the crowd, but people with beating hearts and blood running through their veins, not unlike you or I.

As it turns out, the man in the brothel.... well, I don't want to give any more of the story away than I already have. If you've read the story, I'd love to hear your comments. If you haven't, you should treat yourself to the book. It was one of the Edgar nominees, and is a very worthy novel.