Reading for Writing - "The Dice Man" Preface

There are many unusual books, most of them aren't very good. The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart is definitely unusual, but in a way I find intriguing. The preface contains Rhinehart's unique perspective on styles of writing.


"The style is the man," once said Richard Nixon and devoted his life to boring his readers.

What to do if there is no single man? Should the style vary as the man writing the autobiography varies, or as the past man he writes about varied? Literary critics would declare that the style of a chapter should correspond to the man whose life is being dramatized: a quite rational injunction, one that ought therefore to be repeatedly disobeyed. The comic life portrayed by Hamlet, everyday kitchen events being described by Churchill, the man in love described by Einstein. Thus it will have to be. Let us have no more quibbles about style. If style and subject matter happen to congeal in any of these chapters it is a lucky accident, not, we may hope, soon to be repeated.

A cunning chaos: that is whay my autobiography shall be. I shall make my order chronological, an innovation dared these days by few. But my style shall be random, with the wisdom of the Die. I shall sulk and soar, extol and sneer. I shall shift from first person to third person: I shall use first-person omniscient, a mode of narrative generally reserved for Another. When distortions and digressions occur to me in my life's history I shall embrace them, for a well-told lie is a gift of the gods. But the realities of the Dice Man's life are more entertaining than my most inspired fictions: reality will dominate - for its entertainment value.

I tell my life's story for that humble reason which has inspired every user of the form: to prove to the world I am a great man. I shall fail, of course, like the others. "To be great is to be misunderstood," Elvis Presley once said, and no one can refute him. I tell of a man's instinctive attempt to fulfill himself in a new way and I will be judged insane. So be it. Were it otherwise, I would fear I had failed.

Style concerning tense, point of view, grammar, and word use is almost like a religion in writing, more like politics really, everyone thinks they are right and no one really knows what they are doing. I didn't realize how intense this was until I started talking to writers. It didn't take long to receive threats, unfounded threats; I think.

The disagreement, like many disagreements, lies in a disparity of values. For writers, many of these values come from which audience they are writing for. Obviously the majority of the audience for romance is going to be different from the audience for horror. This can be divided and categorized extensively, but there is a more fundamental level.

There are three types of audiences that a writer can be writing for. The first is themselves. There are writers that need to write, just to stay sane. There are writers that write every day, write dozens of books, and never publish much, or anything, never even attempt to. I think those are rare, but it is hard to tell. I also think that this is at least a little true for most writers. It isn't like there is a shortage of writers in the world.

I believe a more common reason for writing is for someone else. Someone that the writer is trying to impress, prove right, or prove wrong. They are trying to prove to their father that they are smart, or to their mother that they are worthy, or to an old girlfriend that they are valuable, or whatever.

The last reason is that the writer is writing for a crowd, for an audience. This seems rather difficult to me, but some people do it very well. I had a conversion with an author recently that made it sound pretty easy to start making around five figures per month around the end of your first year writing novels. I asked her how and she said that she just writes what the fans want to read. Take the normal characters and the normal plots in a certain genre and use them. That sounds rather easy when it is phrased like that, but I don't think it is.

"The Dice Man" is an unusual book, one that I think many people wouldn't like, but I do. Value is subjective, so it is impossible to please everyone with one work of art; it is folly to try. I like the fact that Rhinehart states so explicitly at the beginning of his novel that the style is going to be unusual, and because it is a fictional autobiography he can do it with the character's voice. I am still exploring style in writing, and that may never end, but I welcome the discoveries. You are welcome to join me at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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