Pitch perfect

I read on someone’s blog some time ago (I wish I could remember where, but it was part of the great loss I suffered when my hard drive crashed a year and a half ago) that you should concentrate on your tone and narrative voice in the early chapters so that the reader has a atrong sense of them from the start. After they are established, you can ease up on them. The reader will remember the intended mood of the novel even as the reading gets a little easier. That makes a kind of sense to me. While it is important to hook the reader early (by whatever means you wish: an arresting plot set-up, an alluring narrative voice, a captivating character, et cetera), it is equally important to give the readers a sustainable reading experience so they don’t abandon your work during the long middle passage because the writing is too turgid or adventurous. Thus I think a careful writer could moderate any flourishes in style after a point if that served the purpose.

Okay, I’ve made my way — again — through the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason, and it reads pitch perfect to me. It reads exactly the way I want it to, and I think it will pull the reader in. Granted, I’ve been working on it for ten years; this is the short story I attempted a decade ago that the whole novel has since sprung from. Nonetheless, I don’t know that I could, or would want to, sustain this tone throughout the novel. I’ve set the spooky feeling of the story in that first chapter, but now the plot needs to hustle along. I need to take the reader on a lengthy and detailed journey to get to the climax, with all of the plot points that feed into it well established, and I suspect that if I kept the heavy, foreboding tone throughout, it might become too dense. (Or it could be that I’m too lazy to put in the hard work to sustain the tone over another 100,000 words. I don’t know.)

Even so, I am hoping I can borrow some of the tone from that well-wrought first chapter at points along the way, perhaps most significantly in chapter 6, which still vexes me, as a way to get myself back to the intended narrative voice if I stray too far. And if readers can feel the echo of it without slogging through the artifice of it, I’ll consider my work well done.

Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts, Sleep of Reason

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