In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to tackle Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s not a difficult book, but it’s an enormous text. I’ve already sunk at least twelve hours into it, and I’m only half-way through it. I was fairly well acquainted with the character of Dracula, but I knew almost nothing about the plot, so the book is surprising me on several levels. One of the most surprising things about it is that so far the book is composed entirely of diaries and letters.

The effect reading a book constructed this way is an interesting one. In some ways, it has forced me to become better acquainted with the characters. If you’re going to dedicate twenty-five pages to reading someone’s journal, there’s an incentive to know who’s talking. That sounds like a minor undertaking, but there are a lot of characters in Dracula, and after a long first section that is constructed entirely of one character’s journal, the text jumps from voice to voice sometimes very quickly, and there is no main voice to cling to.

In the hands of a less skilled writer, a text like this would be a nightmare, but Stoker is good so far at reminding you who’s voice you’re listening and what their stake (heh.) is right away, so even when I put the book down for a few days, I don’t lose track of what’s going on.

Which is a good object lesson for writers: Always provide a clue to who’s talking and what they care about at the beginning of a section, even if sections are very short.