Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to make every chapter interesting

So, I had another not-so-original epiphany today. I've only completed one novel to date and it was hard going. I think it was so hard because I had no clear division in the story, other than scene-to-scene. Today the thought occurred to me that it might be easier to get through that first draft if I wrote by chapter, instead of by scene.

I know this is nothing new to the writing community in general, but I've never tried it before. Not only did I not write by chapter in my first book, but I didn't write chronologically either; I literally wrote scenes in random order as they developed in my imagination. This is NOT a good writing strategy: you have to figure out where each scene fits best, reconcile slight differences in plot or detail, and then go back and figure out where chapter breaks should go. It's a nightmare! So, I'm going to take a leaf out of the books of several writers and create a new Word doc for each chapter (incidentally, it was my good friend Shallee that got me thinking about this suggestion again, if in a round-about way; she mentioned doing more intensive outlining in her post the other day).

Now, here's the (hopefully) brilliant part of my epiphany: the way to make each chapter more fun to read (and write) is to structure each one as a complete mini-story as much as possible. What I mean is try to make every chapter have a clear conflict and plot structure of its own. That way, in addition to supporting or advancing the overarching plot, each chapter helps keep the readers attention/interest and gives the reader mini-doses of the reaction he/she gets from an entire book. If I can make this work, it will make my writing infinitely more interesting.

Now, I'm sure it's going to be about 8 billion times harder than it sounds, and will require a heck of a lot of outlining (again, thank you, Shallee), so I hope you all will be sending good vibes my way.

What do you like to do to make each chapter interesting and engaging?


  1. Lol, I know many, myself included, that are chunk writers. Meaning they write random chunks in any order then arrange them into the novel. I personally can't write linearly or in chapters. But I did have an overview of how I wanted my second book to go and that made putting the chunks in order a whole lot easier than the first novel.

    Good luck on your new way of writing. Hope it works for you.

  2. Hey, found your blog while wandering aimlessly around David's. Anyway, that whole mini-story inside of a chapter really gave me a lot to think about.

  3. Shallee rocks! And thanks, Jackson!

    That's a great way to go about it, Reece. That's my method. I'm very much a linear writer. I can't, for the life of me, write a chapter 100 pages down the line. What I write in the future depends on what I've done first. I also favor the occasional mini-cliffhanger. Helps turn the page.

  4. If I get a later scene in my head- I write it- then fill in the other stuff later. One thing I read from another author (J.A. Konrath who has an amazing website for writers) is when you're MS is finished, cut and paste. Literally. Use scissors and move scenes around to different places. I did this with a few scenes and man- what a great idea.

  5. Sending good vibes. :) I think that's a great way to structure scenes, as mini stories. I try to do that as much as possible, working in actions, reactions, beginnings, middles, ends, conflict...all that jazz. Good luck!

    Also, I HIGHLY recommend the book Story Engineering by Larry Brooks to help you figure out large scale plotting. His section on story structure helped me understand what elements need to go where, and what touchpoints I have to hit. SO AMAZINGLY HELPFUL with my last rough draft!

  6. For some reason, I have an aversion to writing things in chapters, especially first drafts. I like dividing up a story and making sure things are right, but I usually find myself pushing toward the end of the chapter, and not focusing on the story overall. But I like the idea of mini-stories--a chapter should have structure, like a complete novel.

  7. OMG, you just sucked ALL the fun out of writing! hahaha

  8. I just finished my first draft of Hunt of Julia and I really struggled with this draft compared to my last ones. And I couldn't figured out why, until this post came back to me. This was why, I did something different this time. Normally, when I draft, I have a start, a middle, an end and I write, just freaking vomit it out on paper.

    This time I had that for each scene, I have no idea why, I just did, my brain was ready. Each scene had its own mini conflict, full of tension and a climax I had to build up to. Come the main climax it was so tense I had to kill someone off! It was a hard write.
    Very challengining and it took me a few more weeks than normal.

    Usually, I save those challenges for my rewrites! Maybe I'm growing. It would save me time eh? And gee like three or four drafts, tears, grey hairs... lol