'Telling the Tale' was the moniker given to a brand of confidence trick in the 1920s and 30s where an elaborate fairy story was spun to persuade the unsuspecting rich to part with wallet-fulls of their booty. Those of you with short memories, or much youth, can think Nigerian bank account or lottery winning email scams, but the old-fashioned TTT always displayed a personal approach and a heap more class.
The con man or 'bunco' artist had a silver tongue and a believable background, or at least the appropriate props. For example:
Rolls Royce hired by the hour,
room for a night in a superstar de-luxe hotel.
These helped set the scene to charm cash out of his 'clients'. Who could resist -
“Why don't we meet at Claridges?” (or The Savoy, Dorchester or other seriously posh name), “I've got a suite there.
I'll get the Roller to pick you up. I got an insider tip from Warren Buffet,” (or other astronomically rich name).
“You can get in on the ground floor – bigger than Microsoft,” (or other universally huge company name).
“Sure thing you can't afford to miss. Once in a lifetime.”
And the con is well on the way. (You've seen how The Sting and Mission Impossible work).
But all the preparation is stuff-all use if the con artist can't weave a story so magical and convincing that it draws in even the deepest cynic – if he can't 'Tell the Tale'.
Well guess what, that's what writing fiction is. A con act. A deception.
The writer needs readers to care enough about make-believe characters in a manufactured situation for them to read past the prologue to find out what happens next. More important, if the starving writer wants to eat, the reader must willingly fork out money for the book or Kindle download.
So that's the point: everything ultimately comes down to the story. The reader wants to be taken in. Oblige them. Wrap them up in your magic and carry them off. Tell the Tale.
Think how many books there are concerning dragons, zombies, sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, hobbits, etc. not counting masterpieces like the Grimm brothers 'Fairy Tales'. Is any of it believable? Of course not, but it doesn't stop us getting lost in the story. Cinderella stays in everyone's memory not because we reckon pumpkins can become coaches or white mice can morph into snowy white steeds, but because we love the tale of rags to riches, turning the tables on the Ugly Sisters, and the glass slipper palaver. We love the story. We'll believe anything if the narrative is woven with skill; at least for the duration of the book.
Occasionally you'll pick up a novel where the grammar is sound, the ambience true to life, the use of English appropriate, every page is clear of typos or factual errors, but nothing of interest happens. You're treated to lengthy descriptions of characters' clothes, breakfast, the train journey from home to office, what the secretary looks like, what they're currently thinking, but what's totally lacking is dramatic conflict.
You can set a marvellous scene but if nothing happens in it – who cares?
So, concentrate on making your tale so intriguing, breathtaking, mysterious, horrific, endearing, tear-jerking, action-packed, (whatever's appropriate for your genre) and stuffed full of conflict and suspense that the reader just has to turn the next page to find out what's going to happen next.
If you do it well enough, 'bumpy' writing will be shrugged off. Think Master H. Potter, Da Vinci Code and Twilight. Their authors won't win Nobel Prizes for Literature, but they sure as hell catch readers, and unlike bunco artists, the writers won't end up in jail. At least not for their writing cons. It wasn't prose that got multi-million-selling author Jeffrey Archer banged up. (Although a 'pro' was instrumental, if you remember the case! And it gave us the slang term for £2000 - An 'Archer'.)
One version of 'Telling the Tale' was also what 'The Lemon Drop Kid' did in Damon Runyon's brilliant story. If you haven't come across Runyon's unique stories, (always told in the present tense) here's a link to The Lemon Drop Kid.
Here's hoping you have better luck 'Telling the Tale' than the Kid did.