The charm of the narrator: The overlooked commonality between novelist and advocate

AuthorAndrew Pyper
g SPRING 2012
e charm  he narra:
The novelist’s life is blessed in innumerable ways, but among
its few plagues is the taxi driver/waiting room/barstool/cocktail
party questioner, the know-it-all who, upon learning one writes c-
tion for a living, confesses to having always planned on a side career
of literary fame (“If only I had the time!”) and then, conspiratorially,
asks about “the hook.” Because that’s what a prize-winning bestseller
requires above all, right? A sprinkling of fairy dust that grabs the reader
right o the top, a trick of the trade that compels the turning of pages
into the night. A grimy mechanism that makes us care.
Generally, this mechanism– this hook– is assumed to be a structural
bit of business: opening with a dead body, a blast of high-voltage action,
the introduction of a Big Mystery. Later, these come-hithers will pay o
in more trickery. A twist, a nifty tying together of loose ends, a Shocking
In the name of changing the subject I always say they’re right, though
in fact they’re not. Because what’s most important for building a com-
pelling narrative isn’t plot, but a main character who convincingly feels
and experiences and endures the trials of plot. And what’s most import-
ant to creating a character is voice. This is as true of the courtroom as it
is of the novel.
Whether the words are delivered by a ctional narrator or a esh-and-
blood lawyer (or his or her client), voice tells the story. And the voice that

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