Show, don’t tell; right? Not always!

Great writers are capable of breaking common literary conventions. For example, John le Carré delights to tell a story, rather than show it, and this is contrary to good literary advice (a search of ‘show, don’t tell’ yields over 400,000 results on youtube). ‘Telling’ works for le Carré because he is so good at it and because he uses omniscient characters to lay enough information to pull the reader into the plot (emphasis is mine).

“Both The Honourable Schoolboy and A Delicate Truth deploy omniscient narrators. Interestingly, omniscience is virtually Le Carré’s default form of narrative method…Without doubt, the subliminal effect of hearing the authorial voice in a Le Carré novel is perhaps the most signal feature of his style. For example, this is how A Delicate Truth begins:

On the second floor of a characterless hotel in the British crown Colony of Gibraltar, a lithe, agile man in his late fifties restlessly paced his bedroom…Certainly it would not have occurred to many people, even in their most fanciful dreams, that he was a middle-ranking British civil servant… dispatched on a top-secret mission of acute sensitivity.”

Here, the omniscient narrator informs the reader of the key fact on page one: the “top-secret mission of acute sensitivity”. It is a confident, almost brazen, rupturing of the modern literary injunction to “show, not tell”.  John le Carré is telling us this story, not showing it, and he has all the information.” [source: The New Statesman]

$ Bonkers about Bankers

The famous thriller writer, John le Carre wrote, “I think bankers will always get away with whatever they can get away with.” In my new novel, the theme of corrupt (oops, perhaps devious) banks and bankers is one that propels the plot along. It gives motive as well as substance for the unfolding events that cause a group of cunning heisters to plan on diverting huge sums of money away from the banks.

How do they carry out this heist of all heists? You will need to read my  novel to find out. Suffice to tell you that, for my story at least, le Carre is right! [note: this pic of David John Moore Cornwell, aka le Carre, was taken at his home in remote Cornwall, England, far away from the establishment and banks that he despised.]

How Important is the First Sentence?

Here’s a couple of openers from well-known thriller writers;

“Sam Harrison swung his agile body out of the silver blue Ford Aerostar, which he had parked ono Q Street in the Georgetown section of Washington.” [Jack and Jill by James Patterson]

“Duke Russell is not guilty of the unspeakable crimes for which he was convicted; nonetheless, he is scheduled to be executed for them in one hour and forty-four minutes.” [The Guardians by John Grisham]

Only two examples, but both start with the name of the main character/protagonist and both give a sense of place – Washington for Patterson and a prison(?) for Grisham. I prefer the urgency and mystery given in John Grisham’s opener, for two reasons; first, there are ‘unspeakable crimes’ which ups my interest; second, time is running out. A third reason could be that we owned a Ford wagon a while back and we were not that thrilled with it (LOL).

In my new novel I hope the opening line grabs the reader’s interest by suggesting tension, introducing a female character and creating a need to find out who is being followed and why. It reads;

“You are being followed,” she whispers.

I love this comment by Dawn Schaefer on the opening lines of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré; “There is the sense of having been dropped into the middle of a conversation, and a gossipy one at that...” And what, you will no doubt ask, are these lines?

“The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.”

Now that we are on about Carré, here is my favorite opener (from Call for the Dead);

“When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary.”

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