Monday, February 3, 2014

Go until the chapter ends and then stop

How do you know where one chapter ends and another begins? What *is* a chapter?

by Meredith Cole

Chapters can be small--or long. They can take place in one day--or not. And everyone seems to do their chapters a little differently. Confused? I used to be.

I remember when I wrote my first book (still sitting unpublished in a drawer, thank goodness), I started each chapter with my main character waking up. She went through her day, and at the end of the chapter she went to bed. Ho-hum. Asleep yet? Yeah--me, too.

Without changing much (except deleting all the unnecessary wake ups and bedtimes), I tried moving the chapter start and end times so something exciting happened at the end and the beginning of each. I did this a bit randomly at first, making one chapter very short and another chapter three times as long, but it radically changed the feel and rhythm of my book. My book no longer felt so dull, but started to feel like a real page turner. If something I tried didn't work, I would just change it again (and again) until I found the right moment. Eventually my skill and sense of timing got better and I started to naturally "feel" where one chapter ended and the next began.

Final chapter decisions are now something I leave until I've gone through several drafts of my book. I'm no longer fearful of making a mistake (hey--you can always save the draft as something new and you always have your previous chapter divisions that you can always return to...). I think of it as an opportunity to change the way my story feels and the way I feel about my story.


9 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Good piece, Meredith. I like what you said here especially "Without changing much (except deleting all the unnecessary wake ups and bedtimes), I tried moving the chapter start and end times so something exciting happened at the end and the beginning of each."

I think one of the things writers tend to do sometimes is get into a scene too early and out too late. So that's a really good point.

Dana King said...

Well and simply put. I write in scenes; a chapter is a scene. It lasts as long as the scene does, which can be anywhere between 500 and 3,000 words, sometimes as many as 4,000. Get in as late as I can, gte out as early, and they'll be as long they need to be.

maxeverhart30 said...

Nice article...and a relevant subject. I'm reworking my second novel before sending it to my publisher, and my chapters are way too long. The simple (yet useful) advice of "moving the chapter start and end times so something exciting happened at the end and the beginning" is definitely something I'll try. Cheers for the insight, Meredith.

Meredith Cole said...

Great advice Paul and Dana! In too early and out too late are common mistakes. It's easy to give too much info in a first draft--so it's worth checking again in a final one.

Meredith Cole said...

Thank for coming by the block @maxerhart30! Good luck to you as you rework your novel--and I'm glad my blog was useful for you!

Catriona McPherson said...

Your first book, first draft chapter blueprint made me laugh out loud! I'm right now cutting /adding chapters in a re-draft. The winner so far - 40 pp of 12-point double-spaced. It's a beast. Maybe for pantsers, chapters are always going to be something that get done in later drafts?

Meredith Cole said...

Good luck wrestling your beast of a chapter into submission, Catriona. I've read your entertaining well-paced (finished) novels, so I know you can do it!

Susan C Shea said...

I recall reading a novel in which the author ended every chapter with a "if only she had known then..." sentence. After a few, it became an irritant. Too contrived, never mind the spoiler quality! Diving in late and exiting early is great advice. I take it sometimes, although there are moments when I think the reader enjoys having a moment to rest along with the protagonist.

Meredith Cole said...

I totally agree Susan! I have become quite tired while reading thrillers that never give me a chance to catch my breath... I think it's important to mix it up so when the action heats up, the reader actually notices.