Writing tips from Rumpole of the Bailey: Part 2


I’m examining the first three paragraphs of Rumpole A La Carte to see how John Mortimer gets the story going in the first three paragraphs. Rumpole on the Shelf

Right away, in Paragraph One, Mortimer gives us Rumpole the underdog crusading hero trudging round the old Bailey, short on time, but long on stamina as he battles to impose Rumpole order on a chaotic universe (the hero’s mission statement). Also, in paragraph 1, we receive the promise of genre as Rumpole references the murders he’s solved and his expertise with bloodstains.

Then, in Paragraph 2, Mortimer introduces what’s at stake—his wife, Hilda—as well as setting the story in its arena using Hilda’s cookery as an entry into the world of haute cuisine, where the battle will be fought.

All this in two paragraphs, a little over half a page…Now, turn the page, and in Paragraph 3 Mortimer introduces Hilda’s cousin, Everard, Rumpole’s peer on the field of battle, since he is also a lawyer, and his superior for looks, charm, culture and money. This is Rumpole’s Enemy. Everard Flings Down the Gauntlet…

Mortimer sets all this up with a masterful hand (and writes the TV script while he’s at it).

Thus, we have:

 Paragraph 1. A crusading underdog lawyer sleuth…

Paragraph 2. …will battle for his marriage…

Paragraph 3. …against the attractive, rich lawyer out to steal Hilda.

I bow to you, John Mortimer. I shake my head with admiration. I do my utmost to learn from you… Especially this week, as I’ve got a new mystery novella to start writing.

I couldn’t have a better model for structuring intrigue and struggle. Thank you, John Mortimer.  I miss you.

“I have often noticed, in the accounts of the many crimes with which I have been concerned, that some small sign of disorder—an unusual number of milk bottles on a doorstep, a car parked on a double yellow line by a normally law-abiding citizen, even, in the Penge Bungalow Murders, someone else’s mackintosh taken from an office peg—has been the fist indication of anarchy taken over…”

–John Mortimer, Rumpole A La Carte. From paragraph 1, page 1.

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