LITERATURE: The Murdered Cousin – Breaking the Rules

Out of curiosity I looked back in time to some of the classic short stories and selected this one, The Murdered Cousin, by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu.

He wouldn’t pass an online critique of contemporary writers.  He starts with a tag:

And they lay wait for their own blood: they lurk privily for their own lives.  So are the ways of every one that is greedy for gain; which taketh away the life of the owner thereof…

Off to a bad start; this is a no-no in current writing.  And then, he proceeds to start out with backstory, and tell, tell, tell. 

This story of the Irish peerage is written, as nearly as possible, in the very words in which it was related by its “heroine,” the late Countess D——, and is therefore told in the first person.

My mother died when I was an infant, and of her I have no recollection, even the faintest. By her death my education was left solely to the direction of my surviving parent. He entered…

This background, while giving a feel for the character and situation, lacks something every wannabe writer has absolutely got to have in those first paragraphs:  Good grief, where’s the action!  While hinting at something that gives the impression that the narrator’s father is rather somber for a reason, LeFanu goes even further back into history:

Shortly before my birth an event occurred which had contributed much to induce and to confirm my father’s unsocial habits; it was the fact that a suspicion of murder had fallen upon his younger brother, though not sufficiently definite to lead to any public proceedings, yet strong enough to ruin him in public opinion.

And makes the most horrible mistake of taking another leap in time:

Before, however, I enter upon my immediate adventures, I ought to relate the circumstances which had awakened that suspicion to which I have referred, inasmuch as they are in themselves somewhat curious, and in their effects most intimately connected with my own after-history.

Well, I’m afraid poor Joe would’ve been sent a form rejection by now, having not produced a corpse, a tornado, a war–something to hold our interest one page into the story. 

Or anyway, an agent’s interest in the busy, dog-eat-dog world of publishing.

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