We love structure and craft here on Eight Ladies – combined, we’ve spent thousands of hours on classes, and maybe tens of thousands reading about how to write, and listening to podcasts. Structure is important, and it makes a book great.
But . . . it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. There’s that big, blasted sword of Crazy that only shows up in this dimension when it wants to, and can disappear nearly as fast. It’s also only visible to certain readers, so whoever wishes to wield the sword of Crazy had better have a thick skin or numb ears: a lot of people are going to be telling the wielder that s/he is . . . well, crazy.
Crazy sometimes carries the day, though. I love Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series – adored them as a teen and imprinted on them, and even read them as an adult and still loved them!
Adams had a gift for funny ideas, and was skilled at winding them up and letting them run into each other at full speed. Structure was more hit and miss – he was more like a jerry-rigger than an architect of literature. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has not just one, but multiple prologues. The climaxes seem to come regularly, but not in any particular order. And the dangling threads? Well, apparently that’s why this trilogy needed four sequels instead of the usual two.
Still – look at Adams’ impact on culture. Anyone in the English-speaking world who has passed the grand age of 42 knows they have been initiated into the secret club of Life, the Universe and Everything. I stock up on towels, knowing that a hoopy frood always knows where hers is. And sometimes, a giant but soothing DON’T PANIC floats through my mind, and makes me feel better. I am not alone in the universe.
Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld series, managed to combine the wild invention with a more traditional story-telling structure. And in my mind, there’s absolutely no doubt that Pratchett has surpassed his master. The books are funny and deeply satisfying.
But where would Pratchett be without the crazy? He’d be stuck with an empty structure. In the best of all possible worlds, we produce high-quality amounts of both crazy and structure. But, if structure is interfering with Finishing the Book . . . maybe the obvious choice to go for the crazy.
What do you think? What’s the craziest book you’ve ever read (with or without structure)?
(I think that I will never see anything as crazy and as rigorous as Theo Jansen’s Strandbeesten. Enjoy! [Strandbeest Evolution 2017])