Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chapter by chapter~ organizing your book

If you've ever attended a writer's conference, you already know how much emphasis is placed on the first page of your book. Even the very first line is massaged over and over, ad naseaum I think. Yes, hooking the reader is important, but keeping them reading page after page, chapter after chapter is more important.

How do you do that? Write an awesome book is the simple answer of course, but knowing where to break your chapters can help a lot. Ending a chapter at a neat stopping place may seem like a good idea, but it doesn't really force the reader to wonder what's next.  Stopping a chapter just as something is about to happen or an important a discovery is made compells the reader to turn that page just one more time to find out "what's going to happen??"  In turn, that naturally creates an exciting starting point for the following chapter.

Some other things to consider where making chapter breaks: If you're writing a book with several  alternate points of view (POV), you may want to have a chapter break each time to you switch POV. This gives the reader a subtle, mental cue to switch gears, to expect a different narrator. You may also want a chapter break if you're shifting back and forth in time or place for the same reason. Chapter breaks help your reader make sense of the world you've brought them into so they can focus on the story without mentally stumbling over changes in POV or time.

I've heard an editor say each indivdual chapter/scene should have it's own mini-three act structure as well: an inciting incident, a change, and the resulting growth. Each chapter/scene needs to have a purpose that either illustrates the character or moves the plot along, or preferably both. I'm not sure one needs to be quite that persnickety about it, but it a fairly good rule of thumb. If you ever get the feeling a particular chapter isn't working for some reason, you might check it's structure to see if it's missing something.

The main thing to remember about chapters is there really is no right or wrong. There is no hard and fast rule for the number of pages a chapter should have. Write the way you need to to tell the story you need to tell, but keep in mind your reader's ability to mentally follow where you're going. The reader is key.

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