Saturday, 16 August 2014

Keeping all my chunks nice and bite sized

I like writing in chapters.

I've seen the arguments against them from writers like Terry Pratchett. How they say that we don't split our lives into chapters, so it really doesn't make sense to split our stories (which are meant to be reflections of our lives) into chapters.

That's all very well. Maybe he's right. Maybe not. It's not really something I think about, because there's one very good reason why I choose to construct my stories in clearly delineated chapters.

Let me explain it this way. I'm a busy person. I don't get a lot of time to write. Any writing that I do manage to complete is in whatever time I manage to scrounge here and there.

In order to make the most of this time, it's really important that I can give myself some incentive, especially if I'm working on something major (and really, anything over around 15,000 words is major for me). Seeing that mountain in front of me can be pretty frightening. But breaking that mountain down into a series of individual climbs makes it all so much more manageable.

That's why chapters are so useful. They give me a sense of achievement, a sense that I'm actually achieving milestones and getting things done. If I didn't give myself these frequent, short-term goals, I'm not sure I would ever have the focus to get a novel written.

Of course, once I find myself working with chapters, I try to have a bit of fun with them. One of the creative triggers that helped me with my fantasy novel Magnus Opum (which has just been re-released by Booktrope Publishing - sorry, I just had to get a plug in there) was deciding that the title of each chapter would be based on some sort of nonsensical made-up word. Might not sound like much, but it helped to put my mind into the right place creatively to move the story forward.

Similarly, in my Neville Lansdowne stories (Doodling, Scribbling, Scrawling) each chapter title is some sort of little saying or quote (e.g. "A toast to you", "Taking aim") which captures something about what the chapter is about.

And, of course, chapters help to give shape to the story, and provide points where you can build up the tension to keep readers wanting to read on.

So, until the next chapter in my own adventures, hope you have a great week. 

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as a reader probably the main thing I hate about e-books is the fact that I never know how long I have to go until the end of the chapter I’m reading or, more importantly, the one I’m about the start. I may have been reading for an hour and starting to get tired—although it’s a very rare thing for me to sit still for a whole hour (I am something of a fidget)—and I’m wondering if I can squeeze in another chapter but the big question is: How long will it take me to read another chapter? I don’t really want to stop partway through but if it’s a long on I may have to. Now, with a paperback, I can flick ahead and make an informed decision. All I have with e-books (depending on the reader you’re using) are the number of pages read or the percentage covered. On some there are these little indicators at the bottom showing chapter breaks but I don’t find them especially helpful. I want to know if it’s six or twelve or twenty-three pages. And even during a chapter I have a terrible habit of counting the pages left until the end of the chapter especially if the book isn’t one I’m fully engaged with.

    As a writer I can’t say I’ve ever given much thought to chapters. I have them and they come at logical places in the narrative. Only once can I recall ending a chapter in the middle of the action and that was the very first chapter of my very first book and the only reason I did it was because when I’d finished the book the first chapter was twice as long as all the others. As it happens it turned out to be a good thing because the new chapter one now ends on a cliffhanger and it’s hard not to want to read on. I’m reading an epistolary novel at the moment. I can see the attraction. A great way to keep the chapters of a reasonable length.

    My novella Exit Interview is a single block of text BUT as it’s made up of interview questions it naturally breaks into sections. You just stop when you see a new question. The More Things Change is in four parts: the first is divided into chapters but the next two are unbroken blocks of text; the final section is in dialogue. I let content dictate form. That’s what felt right for that one so that’s what I went with.

    I do get why you would like working in manageable units. I’ve been struggling to write a novel for a few years now—can’t keep everything I need in my head—so I adopted for a modular approach which is how I came up with a Q+A as a structure for a book and it worked perfectly; just answer one question at a time. The last novella is about a guy writing a short story and, again, a three day structure came about naturally, so three chapters.