A Novel Idea: Fun with formats


Words, sentences, chapters: A novelists’ bread and butter. A tried and true method for delivering their stories, a typical book format normally works best for authors to write and readers to read. However, there’s something refreshing and exciting when novels are presented in a unique format, whether it be with the actual content or structure. Some devices that have been successfully used in various novels without becoming trite are time skips, alternate viewpoints and use epistolary format (through documents, like letters). Here are some novels that take their formats beyond the norm. 

“The Illuminae Files” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff 

Photo courtesy of    amazon.com

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

This is actually the series that inspired my column this week. This sci-fi, “space opera” trilogy is told through a dossier of classified documents such as audio transcripts, emails, maps and some pretty cool graphic art spreads. The actual plot is fairly predictable yet manages to remain enjoyable because of the authors’ formatting that fits with the futuristic vibe of the book. 

“House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski 

The obstruction of knowledge easily lent by a unique format fits perfectly with the horror genre, and “House of Leaves” is a cult-classic favorite that utilizes unconventional structure to its advantage. With sporadic asides presented through margin notes, footnotes and blank and inked out pages, this novel creates a very immersive atmosphere for the main haunting. Danielewski’s other works, such as “The Familiar,” similarly employ a unique format. However, “House of Leaves” was my first foray into his works, so it has a special place in my heart. 

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky  

Photo courtesy of    spectatornews.com

Photo courtesy of spectatornews.com

This book became wildly popular during my middle school years, but don’t mistake its popularity for undeserved hype. This waif of a book is chock-full of relatable (and also unrelatable) coming of age moments, but a definitive event underlies it all, which is skillfully concealed and eventually inferred to through the letters contained in the narrative. The discussion and reflection the book incites concerning trauma and mental health are equally important. 

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak 

Photo courtesy of    audible.com

Photo courtesy of audible.com

Another YA novel known around these parts, but for good reason. This introspective novel taking place in Nazi Germany during World War II becomes all the more intense with its unique narrator. Although an atypical narrator isn’t as flashy as the more graphic formats of the other books, Zusak employs the choice in a way that elevates the story from merely poignant to emotionally moving. I don’t want to spoil the narrator for you. Even if you figure it out beforehand though, you will appreciate Zusak’s choices. 

“S.” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst 

You get two for the price of one with this book. The novel is presented as the print copy of the book, “Ship of Theseus” by V.M. Straka, left behind by two students and containing their own notes in the margin. As you read the novel, you can feel the students’ curiosity concerning the true identity of the author and what really happened to him. Along with inserted postcards and maps, the mystery has a very cinema graphic feel, most likely due to Abrams filmmaker influence. 

Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.

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