During our recent vacation, we picked out Scott Anderson’s LAWRENCE IN ARABIA for vacation reading. This has been a hugely successful book. It is the story of Thomas Edward Lawrence, the Lawrence of the movie Lawrence of Arabia, who played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in the Middle East. The book rollicked along from the points of view of several key characters, all of whom also played major roles in the region before, during and after World War I. We really enjoyed it… except where the author butted in. And he did this a lot.
When you are deep in a good book, there is nothing more irritating than becoming aware of the person pulling the strings. It is like pulling the curtain back on the great Wizard of Oz and revealing a salesman. Author intrusions, as they are called, can get in the way of a good story.
What Anderson does almost routinely at the end of every chapter is jump ahead to tell the reader bits and pieces of what is coming next, like tease lines on a news cast: Coming up, one man’s battle against the system. Stay tuned.
Here are some examples from the book:
It would be some time before he knew it, but William Yale had just had his first encounter with Thomas Edward Lawrence, soon to become better known as Lawrence of Arabia.
Among the first spies Prufer would send into the enemy territory would be his lover Fanny Weizmann.
He would eventually find an answer to that question. It would take the form of a notice soliciting applicants to the “foreign service school” of the Standard Oil Company of New York.
…and what had been an intermittent nibbling at the Ottoman realm by the European powers was to become a feeding frenzy.
…in a few years’ time, he would make blowing up the Hajaz Railway a personal pastime.
Our guess is that Anderson was trying to ratchet up the suspense with these tease lines but his book doesn’t need it. It’s plenty exciting. Instead, we were irritated at always being pulled out of the narrative for a commercial break. And reading a story as complicated as LAWRENCE IN ARABIA, there was the added irritation of being thrust into the future and then pulled back again. If you feel your story needs tease lines, maybe you should look at beefing up the story rather than crafting promos.