Well, I finished Dreamcatcher four or five days ago. This is the audio version so I could listen on my way to and from work.  I must say I did enjoy it — except for the foul language. I was wondering how Stephen King was going to get the main characters out of the mess he made for them, but he succeeded quite nicely.

In a previous post, I asked a question about the extent to which an author plans when writing his story, specifically: Does he or she sit down and plan all the symbolism that critics or professors or students or fans assign to the things and events in a novel? I have come to the conclusion that a writer can put some objects in a story for symbolic purposes, but mostly, the reader is going to form meanings and relations because of where he or she is at in life or from past experience.

I am now asking a similar question of the plot. Does an author know and plan that a certain characteristic of a character is necessary at the outset of writing the first paragraph of a novel because it will be needed later?

I know that a plot of the story must be “plotted”, that is, it must be thought out, written down, changed and revised to get the characters to the place that the author wants them to go. As readers, we are let down when the protagonist is backed in a corner and then all of a sudden pulls out a ray gun to get himself out of the situation when there was no mention of a ray gun anywhere else in the story. But does this occur from the very beginning of the novel? And when it comes to smaller, but perhaps not so insignificant details, does this still apply?

In Dreamcatcher, for instance, one of the main characters, Jonesy, had a penchant for horror flicks.  He had watched them all his life — at least, we are led to believe that he did. I don’t think we were informed of this until perhaps a third of the way through the book, however. But it fit in pretty well with his occupation — a history professor — and when the Gray Man had control of his body, the images from those horror movies about killing and murder were used by the Gray Man to get ideas about how to kill.

Now if, instead,  at three quarters of the way through the book, we all of a sudden had read that the Gray Man was accessing Jonesy’s horror movie memory, we would have been let down because we had no idea that Jonesy was a fan of horror movies! The character trait would appear to be an after thought for convenience.

It could be that Stephen King included this rather minor detail in the forming of the characters of the novel from the very beginning, but I think that this is a good example of editing and revision.

I suspect that Stephen King is a writer who gets an idea for a story, forms a rough idea in his head of where he wants it to go and how it’s going to end,  does a skeleton outline of the plot and action in the book — he probably puts it on paper in black and white — and then starts writing. 

In the case of Jonesy in Dreamcatcher  he wrote the story until he came to a point where he needed a way for the Gray Man to understand what killing was and he needed the Gray Man to begin to like it. But he didn’t want the good guy, Jonesy, be a part of the growing lust for murder.  

At this point King needed to revise the earlier part of the script by adding Jonesy’s love of horror movies to previously written chapters. Of course, knowing the manuscript intimately helps and it would not be an impossible task to do. 

Now, when we read the novel, we file the horror movie information away as just something interesting about the character. Later, when we come to the part about the Gray Man accessing the horror-movies file, everything falls into place. We are not questioning where the movie flicks came from; they have been a part of Jonesy’s life all along. Jonesy remains a character that is well-rounded and, most importantly, we remain sympathetic to him. 

What do you think?  Thanks for reading.

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