I was reading The Secret Adversary for about the millionth time this weekend, and when I got to the part where Tommy acted completely out of character, I had to stop and ponder it for a few moments.
I love that part. It’s one of my favorites. Sober, steady, practical Tommy acts completely impulsively, and it’s way better than if the same action was taken by Tuppence, who is KNOWN for her impulsiveness.
Now, most of the time, when a character does something completely foreign to their personality, it drives me nuts. So why does it work so well for Tommy?
I think it’s because Christie, as the narrator (she’s not quite an omniscient narrator in this one, but it’s definitely not a tight third-person POV) acknowledges that he’s acting OOC, and so does Tommy himself. I also think it’s because it really does happen, in real life, that the predictable steady people DO occasionally get wild impulses, and give into them without understanding the why or the how of it. So even though it’s OOC, it’s still believable, and it makes for a great scene, and builds up to some that are even better.
I like reading authors like Christie, who wrote before the era of “Rules for Writing,” and wouldn’t have cared a fig for them if she did (she scatters adverbs wildly) (haha – get it? Wildly? OK, I’m done). She wrote according to her own internal rules, and she never broke them, and it shows.
I break a lot of the so-called Rules in my own writing. But I have a set of my own rules, and the few times I’ve tried (guiltily) to break them, it makes a mess. And sometimes when I start to fret about The Rules, I remind myself of Christie, and then I feel better. Not that I’m the genius she was! But like her, my rules are more important to follow than The Rules.
As long as you understand what you’re doing and why, and you are doing it deliberately, I think The Rules should go out the window.
Where do you stand on the matter?