In which I may eat my words

In a recent post I mentioned that I rarely outline my stories before I write them. I think I may have to reassess that method now with The Sleep of Reason.

This story is told in first person. My narrator is also the protagonist. He will undergo a number of transformations and revelations in the story, and about many of these he will be self deluding. He will think he is in charge only to realize later that he is not. He will attempt to manipulate people while not realizing that he is being manipulated by others. Actions must happen in a proper sequence for his understandings to occur, and then later actions will trigger his deeper understandings. He won’t realize the trouble he is in until too late to extract himself from it.

I’m finding that I cannot rely on my seat-of-the-pants approach to narrative structure that has served me well with the other novels I have written. For the purposes of this novel I can see that I must have a much more comprehensive understanding of the sequence of the plot. And so I think I must spend some time trying to sketch an outline of what must happen when so that I don’t lose the nuance I need to develop the character, which is half of this story. I have more than 10,000 words of notes for this story, and I must get them organized if they are to serve me.

For some reason that escapes me, I’ve always considered the need for outlining to be a sort of weakness in a writer. If a writer needs to outline a story, he or she must not have a very good understanding of the story. Time for a reassessment of my hubris, obviously. Perhaps I will find that it is actually a powerful tool that will take much of the drudgery out of the creative process. If I do, I hereby grant you permission to say “I told you so!”

Both tone and voice will be significant in this novel. (Some would argue that these are always significant in novels.) So often, though, when I read about some writer’s mastery of tone or voice, I find the works to be more like bludgeons that beat me up with their tone or voice. I don’t suppose most readers recognize these qualities unless they are far more blatant than is normally found in a well written work. (I cannot read the works of a certain well known horror writer anymore because the tone of dread in his novels is just too heavy handed.) Oftentimes what is called “mastery” is merely a lack of subtlety.

I’ve always felt that half of a story is in the telling. Even the most thrilling adventure can sound boring if narrated in a monotoned voice. Conversely, a simple tale can be quite entertaining in the hands of a skilled story teller.

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