Writing a Chapter

I’m editing Sacrifice right now–step #2, create a clean copy–and it’s only at about fifty thousand words. This is for a couple of reasons–one, I wrote it during the last two weeks of NaNo 2018, immediately after finishing the draft for Loyalty, so I just didn’t have much time; two, it’s just the bare story.

This is how I usually write, actually. I get the plot done first->Norah goes here; Casey does that; Admiral Holdini sees this, and presto! Story wrapped up.

But there isn’t much feeling to a bare fifty-thousand-word recitation of plot events (obviously). Now that I’ve got a draft, and a clean copy, I’m looking at the story arc and thinking–yeah, some more actual storytelling needs to occur here.

First off, the intro. The intro jumps right back into it, but it’s too quick… I feel the reader needs some time to settle into the state of things as they were left after Loyalty. So I’m thinking->well, draw it out a bit! Following my Nine Hundred story pattern, the chapter perspectives go:

Loren, Anutea, Loren, Casey

On and on. Loren is in pretty good shape, and Anutea’s story is intertwined with his at the moment. So I need to add some Casey chapters, and that inspired my to write this post about How I Insert Extra Chapters(tm).

[It occurs to me that Casey would really hate me referring to him that way. Sorry 😘 Casilim-la!]

First: what is the point of the chapter?

Every chapter should have a purpose (duh). It doesn’t exactly have to be a plot purpose, but at the other end of reading it, we should know something we didn’t know before. Casey and Norah playing karlzn in Identity was one such chapter. It wasn’t in the original draft, and it didn’t move the plot along exactly, but on the other end of it we’ve learned a lot about Casey, Norah, and their relationship!

Sometimes these extra chapters end up moving the plot along in surprisingly impactful ways, too. In Loyalty, my alpha-reader didn’t like my portrayal of Anutea at first, so I nixed about the first eight thousand words and redid them entirely. Everything about Hettaka and the fallout from that? That’s all ‘new’ work. But it significantly impacted Anutea’s character arc, her story, and her journey towards–

Well, I shouldn’t say, because I’m still editing it!

The purpose… that’s where I’m aiming each little twist and turn of the narrative: accomplishing that purpose. My characters might decide to go off another way, to argue, to fight with me, but I’m going to accomplish that purpose in this chapter.

Second: I like for each of my chapters to be a roughly consistent length. This is because, as a reader, I like to read consistent chapters! I know this is a debated topic in the writing community, but for me: each chapter should be about two thousand words. I’ve gone higher and lower, of course–the narrative flows where it flows–but that’s the second part of my goal.

And third: a chapter should be a little story in and of itself. A chapter normally has a clear beginning, middle, and end: a hook at the beginning just like the novel to draw the reader in; a cliff-hanger or question at the end to keep them turning pages.

With all of this structure in mind, it’s usually pretty easy to churn out some words towards that #chaptergoal and bulk up the novel. If not, it’s not necessary, and I’ll skip it (maybe coming back later).

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