I haven’t read Isabel Allende in a while. It’s my favorite Spanish speaking author. I remembered how I used to devour her books when I was a teenager. Her stories were so profound, her characters so alive. I haven’t read all of her books, and this reminds I might not be a proper author fan/follower. But I’ve always been into exploring new authors.
Since she’s a Spanish speaking author, I read her books in their original language: Spanish. No translations. However, in my effort to improve my writing in English, I haven’t read books in Spanish for a while, probably for the last three years. It’s been hard to remain truthful to this objective. I could easily get Spanish translations from John Grisham, Stephen King, and other famous ones in the bookstores of my city, but my encounters with horrible translations have pushed me to insist in improving my English when possible. Now, I usually shop for books online or buy them whenever I travel. The effort has paid off. I used to read books in English with dictionaries searches every two minutes. Now, I don’t need need them anymore.
Anyway, I was excited to read Allende again. The book I picked up was one of her latest ones: “El Amante Japonés” or “The Japanese Lover.” I really enjoyed the book but it was a writing/learning experience more than anything. Unfortunately, I no longer remember enough to testify for other Allende’s books. But in this book, I found a couple of writing style observations along the way that made me question the writing rules I’ve been learning lately. My reading perspective has changed significantly over these two years of reading books about writing, listening to webinars about writing, attending to writing online courses and even going to a writing conference in English. I would have never imagined these writing rules I’ve been following at heart could be non-existent in the authors I loved the most. It was an utter surprise.
But what exactly were these rules I found non existent in “The Japanese Lover”? In fiction, I’ve been taught to write scenes from a single point of view. If you want to use other character’s points of view, then it’s better to do it in another scene or even in another chapter. In “The Japanese Lover”, Isabel Allende mixes multiple points of view from one paragraph to the other. One paragraph you are inside one of the main character’s head and the next one you are in another, in a blink of an eye. At the beginning, I found this quite off-putting. I was mad that one of my favorite authors was writing like that. I began to question, Was it always like that in her previous books? (I still need to check this out of curiosity) Was this something it didn’t bother to me before? Was it because I didn’t know of these rules many years ago? But I learned a lesson quick. The rule about not mixing points of view exists because we don’t want to confuse readers. But we must never misjudge readers’ reading capabilities. After a couple of lines, it was easy to realize which character were being described. And after the first chapters I didn’t find this annoying anymore. Sometimes as writers, we struggle too much in trying to ensure our readers won’t get confused. We write with such detail (succumbing to exaggerated description and slow flow) to ensure readers follow the plot line easily that we sometimes forget our readers are perfectly able to grab implicit details without the need of us describing them word by word.
After overcoming my own self blocking rule in the fist chapters of “The Japanese lover” and forgetting about any other writing rules, I began to submerge into the story. I found out that Isable Allende is still one of my favorite authors. It didn’t matter she changed POVs every second; I read her book hugely entertained and finished it in a couple of days. Of course, the book is not perfect, there are other issues that bothered me at some level, such as the excess of themes in one single book and the highly dramatic backgrounds in each character – too much to be believable at some point. But the book had alive characters. That is something you cannot always achieve by following the rules.
As a result and as part of my writing improvement process. I’ve learned that bending the rules is not always bad. I still prefer to keep one POV for each scene, but now I feel myself free to break some rules and allow my writing to become alive.