49. Deceptive

There’s an old – medieval, probably – Occitan proverb that says:

Big purse little money.


Some people are addicted to show. They must put up a good front, make an appearance, whatever their true circumstances. They are practiced deceivers. Worse still, people believe in their deceptions – that if they know clever people, they must be clever; if they live in a desirable street, they must be desirable.

To those looking on, appearances can be deceptive – until you pierce the façade.

As a writer, that’s no bad thing. You hope they are. Because you want to be able to draw your reader in with one idea of a character, then reverse it.

Show your reader a mother asleep on the grass in a park, her young child playing by the pond … then go closer to show the saliva bubbling from her lips

I have been thinking a good deal recently about tone of voice. And, of course, about the tone of my narrative voice.

Researching Labyrinth, I looked carefully at the work of ‘Tone of Voice Consultant’ John Simmons. It’s about how John tries to advise organisations and individuals on defining and using appropriate tones of voice for specific contexts.

Do you think the tone of this Advice to writers page is appropriate? It mustn’t be patronising, it must be accessible. The nugget of advice must be given with enough context to make it vivid, but the context must not obscure the advice.

In fiction, if your narrative voice is too overbearing – perhaps hectoring, perhaps annoyingly playful, perhaps very knowing or cynical or jokey – it can make it difficult for your story to reveal the subtle deceptions that cast illuminating sidelights on your characters.