The mechanics of chapterization

Last time we talked about chapter breaks from a story standpoint. Now let’s look at the mechanics of how to do it.

I don’t recommend breaking your book out into chapters until you’re in at least your second draft and maybe even later. If you put chapter breaks in early, you may just wind up replacing and renumbering them if you move scenes around while editing. So wait until you’re sure the structure is solidly in place. Truth is, chapterizing can be the last thing you do before submitting the manuscript. Continue reading

Chapter length is important to structure

It may seem trivial, but how long to make the chapters in a novel is a detail worth paying attention to. But this item also bears some explanation.

Chapters are of approximately similar lengths.

Generally speaking, you want your chapters to be consistent in their length, as jerking back and forth between long chapters and short ones can be distracting. You don’t want to throw the reader out of the story with thoughts like this chapter is going on forever or wow, that was a short chapter. Continue reading

A strong opening will grab readers

Many readers, whether in a shop or on Amazon, will make a decision about whether to buy a book by reading the first few pages. If you’re lucky, they read pages. They may only read the first few lines.

And if you are seeking traditional publication, whether through an agent or acquisitions editor, your first few lines must be brilliant to set you apart from all the other manuscripts on those desks.

A strong opening hook pulls the reader into the story.

There are several things a novel’s opening can do. It can, among other things, reveal character, set the tone for the book, give a flavor of what the conflict will be, or show the setting. If you can do two or three of these things at once, go for it. But beware of trying to do too much in a short space. You want to intrigue the readers, not give them sensory overload. Continue reading

Find the right starting point for your novel

Figuring out how to open your story is difficult, because there might be any number of “right times” to begin your story. But in the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist I have avoided phrasing things in the negative, so rather than saying “don’t start at the wrong time,” I put it this way:

The story begins in the right place.

This item is on most editor’s checklists because one of the most common errors we see is two or three chapters of prelude—sometimes more—before the story reaches an engaging starting point. As a freelance editor, I can tell you to delete these chapters to move that point up to the beginning. But if those chapters are present while you are seeking traditional publication or self-publishing, you may not hold the attention of the acquisitions editor or reader long enough to make the sale. Continue reading

Avoid the unnecessary prologue

I took a week off for the Realm Makers conference. Had a fabulous time with all my fellow SpecFic writers, and got some good feedback on my class about representing multiple languages in speculative fiction. Based on that feedback, I’ll be putting the information into a white paper later this year.

The winners of the awards for Christian Speculative Fiction were announced, with the Clive Staples Award going to Patrick Carr for A Cast of Stones. In the Parable Awards for cover design, second place went to Kirk DouPonce for the cover of Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz, and first place to Alexandre Rito for the cover of Numb by John Otte.

OK, enough about Realm Makers. Where were we?

Ah, yes, we were talking about structure. Next up on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist:

Prologue, if used, is necessary and engaging.

On a recent episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, the hosts were asked whether a prologue should be included in one’s proposal when the agent or editor asks for “the first three chapters.” The short answer is yes. The long answer is — if you could omit the prologue and still have your story make sense, then what is the prologue doing there in the first place? Continue reading

An alternative to the five-act structure

The traditional three- and five-act structure is great for writers who outline. For those who don’t, not so much which is why it’s not a huge problem if you look at this item on the checklist and can’t really check it off:

Key events or turning points form a three- or five-act structure.

Being a firm believer in the power of the outline, I love the idea of five-act structure. But some people can’t write that way. We often call them “seat of the pants” writers or pantsers. These are the kind of writers who say “I need to write the story to find out how it ends.” If you are this kind of writer, this kind of structure may be unenjoyable or even unfeasible. Not every story fits in this mold.

And story is what should guide your decisions. Not “rules.” Continue reading

Choose your novel’s structure

We’ve completed the Plot segment of the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist, and now we move on to Structure.

Traditionally, writing instructors have advocated a structure for novels modeled after that used in theater, which is why this item is on the checklist:

Key events or turning points form a three- or five-act structure.

You could plan your structure before you write, but if you’re not an outliner, this may not be enjoyable or feasible. But we’re editing now, and once you’ve finished first draft, you can examine it to see whether your story fits one of the usual models, and tweak if you choose to. Continue reading