I'm currently reading the excellent novel Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. It is an example—I think, of all the contemporary fiction I've read in recent memory, the only example—of omniscient narrative voice. Here's what I mean:
"This is nice." Hansu's eyes searched the cluster of low waves in the middle of the sea and settled on the horizon. "It's not as beautiful as Jeju, but it has a similar feeling. You and I are from islands. One day, you'll understand that people from islands are different. We have more freedom."
She liked his voice—it was a masculine, knowing voice with a trace of melancholy.
"You'll probably spend your entire life here."
"Yes," she said. "This is my home."
"Home," he said thoughtfully. "My father was an orange farmer in Jeju. My father and I moved to Osaka when I was twelve; I don't think of Jeju as my home. My mother died when I was very young." He didn't tell her that she looked like someone on his mother's side of the family. It was the eyes and the open brow.
Switching perspectives in the close-third person—"She liked his voice" followed by "He didn't tell her…" a paragraph later—is generally thought of as a kind of crime in creative writing classes, and indeed many beginning students do it unwittingly. But Min Jin Lee does it so frequently—and deliberately, and gracefully—throughout this beautiful book that it becomes a kind of style.
Come to think of it, great style is often (always?) the result of the stylist's having broken some rule. A few random examples that come to mind: the playful grammatical rule-breaking of e. e. cummings, the dramatic rule-breaking of fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. The gender rule-breaking of so many great musicians, from Bowie to Anohni, of Antony and the Johnsons, and beyond. The etiquette rule-breaking of comedians from Joan Rivers to Amy Schumer. The breaking of unspoken rules about race, and explicit rules about body type, by ballerina Misty Copeland. What great stylists all these artists are.
This week your prompt is to think about breaking the rules for the sake of style in whatever art form you practice. Whether you are working in conceptual art or simply the art of conversation, what rule or rules do you break? What rule or rules do you wish you could break? Why don't you go ahead and break them? That's not an invitation, necessarily. There might be very good reasons not to break it. Only you can know.
This post was originally published in my TinyLetter newsletter.
p.s. A short, shameless plug: the countdown has begun! My novel SELF-PORTRAIT WITH BOY comes out in 8 weeks. It is currently available for preorder from Amazon, IndieBound, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. As you may know, preorders are important for initial sales numbers, which can make or break the fate of a book in the marketplace. If you have not preordered my novel yet, please consider doing so. A thousand thanks, Rachel.