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).

An Ongoing List of Filler Words I Have Abused

What’s on the tin, my dears.

Some of these are not actually filler words per se, just words I abuse way too much. I’m planning to update this list as I unearth more and ruthlessly expunge them from my narrative.

To use: Ctrl+F the word, look for it in your manuscript, delete/edit/revise/leave alone as necessary. These words are (obviously) necessary sometimes, but just not ever in the amount I like to use them.

It reminds me of the time I was slow-cooking a chicken and dumped the entire package of Montreal Chicken spice on top. That was a salty chicken.

As of March 2021:

  • So
    my nemesis
  • That is
  • Thing
    I used “thing” so much in Bolfenn that a beta reader called me out on it. What am I supposed to be, some kind of writer or something?! I’m always going to reach for the laziest word…
  • Sigh
  • Very
  • Some kind of
  • Almost
    “He almost sighed.” This phrase might also be my nemesis. Can one have two nemesis…es? Nemesi? Nemeses?

Editing

Work’s been kicking my ass lately. Okay, so it has been for most of the past twelve months now. It’s been especially kicking my ass since February.

(sigh)

Well, one of these days I’ll be a famous author and spend my days signing books and, uh, whatever else famous authors do right? Retconning shit on Twitter? Inventing backstory to questions my readers never asked? All that fun stuff.

Getting back to business, here, I thought I’d put together a guide to editing as practiced be me, a woman with little experience and questionable results. It’ll have a cool infographic though! I hear those are all the rage on the Twitter these days.

Oh, here it is.

I mean, it’s all there. Drama. Excitement. Huge space battles.

(I was thinking about Loyalty again. Sorry).

I’ll transcribe it all here as well, in case someone is using a screen reader or the image borks out!

STAGE 1: DRAFTING

You can’t edit a novel (or anything) if you don’t have a draft. Go write it.

What? You’ve written it already? It sits upon your computer in beautiful speckled glory? Continue to stage 2.

STAGE 2: WAITING

If you’re following along with the pictures, you’ll notice that our eggs have turned into a beautiful chrysalis, skipping the caterpillar stage entirely.

That is because after writing a draft, you must wait as long as you can bear (weeks or months, preferably) before you open it again.

Only then can your draft become a caterpillar, with apologies to Mother Nature.

STAGE 3: CATERPILLAR

Okay. You have a draft. You’ve forgotten everything you loved (and hated) about it. It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s…

Crawling around on a dozen creepy little legs and staring at you with six tiny stemmata*!

Now begins the fun. Open up that bad boy and read it. Don’t change anything! Don’t edit! If you must, make notes as you go, but try to just soak it in, beginning-to-end.
*stemmata are caterpillar eyes! Your Fun Fact for the day

STAGE 4: PEN-TO-PAPER

You’ve made a draft, you have a solid understanding of how it flows and where the weak points are.

Open the file, save a fresh copy (always save a new copy for a new draft! You might change your mind about edits later) and start from the first line, first word.

As you go, make wording and phrasing changes, copy-edits, grammar–everything you see!

The result of this will be…

STAGE 5: CLEAN COPY

Uh-oh, back to the chrysalis!

Give yourself a week off to let the changes you’ve just made settle. Once they’re not keeping you awake at night anymore, go back to your clean copy and give it another once-over. This time, make notes about structural problems: missing scenes, scenes which don’t flow well, characters acting in ways which are convenient for the plot but not necessarily their story arc. Go back, save another copy, and fix these problems too.

STAGE 6: ALPHA/BETA READERS

You now have a clean draft with few structural errors which you’ve read at least twice completely. It’s time to…

Get Outside Feedback.

Doesn’t have to be that scary, though. Give it to a trusted friend, preferably one who is also a writer or avid reader. Ask for their feedback, plot points, thoughts on characterization–whatever they’re willing to give.

All feedback is good feedback. Make that your mantra as you sit there in anxiety, waiting for a response.

STAGE 7: RINSE AND REPEAT

Keep going.

Listen to feedback and incorporate it if you feel it is useful. All feedback is good feedback, but it’s your novel.

Read and re-read and keep making changes if you feel they are useful.

Try reading passages aloud to see how they flow: something which reads awkwardly aloud will sound awkward in your reader’s head, too.

STAGE 8: SHIP IT!

You’re done!

You’ve copy-edited, read aloud, fixed structural problems, solicited feedback from friends, and read the manuscript so many times you’re starting to loathe the thing.

What you do next is up to you. Put it up on Wattpad? Publish on Amazon or IngramSpark? Start querying? The world is your oyster: you wrote a novel!

hello

Planning to use this as a sort of progress tracker for my writing/editing/publishing.

So the best way to do that is record where I am right now!

  1. Bolfenn: beta reading
  2. Into the Grey: drafting, 10k/100k target words
  3. Bootstrap_: alpha reading; ending needs significant re-write
  4. Loyalty: alpha reading
  5. Sacrifice: revising & adding scenes

Then there’s the “someday” projects which are not being actively worked on:

  1. Lesbian Island: needs a from-the-ground-up rewrite
  2. Sad Valkyrie: also needs a from-the-ground-up rewrite
  3. That Sequel to Bolfenn that Maria wants: outlining, 2k/100k words