Night sky

Warning: contains extended metaphors

This tip is all about chapters. You use chapters to break up your novel. It’s a necessary evil because, if your novel flowed uninterrupted from page one to ending, you would find it very difficult to introduce leaps in the timeline, new themes or undiscovered locations.

How to create chapters

They’re not too hard to construct. A chapter is essentially a micro-novel. It has a beginning, middle and end. Approach it in the same way you would a story which stands on its own. Start from where you left the last chapter, with sudden action or unexpected/intriguing events. Draw your reader in from the outset.

The issue

But chapters create a problem. When I write, I’m always conscious of there being two types of chapter I create. It’s useful to think about them as stars and space. Imagine looking up the night sky (as with the image above), you see bright stars with black space between.

Stars

When you’re writing a novel, some chapters will be superb. The characters will do exciting, unexpected things. You will reach new heights of eloquence and vivid prose in your descriptions of location and events. These are the star chapters.

Space

Other chapters fall short of the mark. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t reach the stars’ excellent standard. This is often because a plot point needs to be explained, the scenery isn’t interesting or your characters are doing a necessary but dull task. That’s the filling space between the stars.

Is it a bad thing?

Don’t worry if your novel has these filling chapters. If there was no space between stars in the sky, it would be blinding. They perform a necessary function, as it might exhaust your reader if every chapter was a brilliant work of art. That being said, you can do some things to spruce up these filler chapters.

Solution

I’ll now look at how you can improve these “space” chapters.

Sub-plots

If you’re using the filler to join the dots between two plot points, treat this as a sub-plot. Let’s say you have to kill a minor character in a way that doesn’t immediately concern your protagonist. Elevate the chapter by giving a sense of the minor character’s humanity and how others perceive them. This will serve as a point of comparison with your protagonist, adding depth to the narrative.

Memories and visions

Sometimes, the setting just isn’t interesting. If your protagonist stands in an empty field then they will soon run out of things to look at. I have this problem especially when writing night scenes where there is little colour to play with. It might not be enough to focus on people over place.

I’ve just written a scene set on a rural hilltop at night. My most exciting description of the town below was as a “ruddy smear”. So how did I add interest?

I used the memories of one character to transform the scenery, by super-imposing them on the landscape. Now the Siege of Orleans plays out below, replacing my “ruddy smear”. How did the environment look the last time your character was there? Does it remind them of somewhere else?

Banal action into character growth

In that same scene, the characters were doing nothing more than having a rest and looking down at the town. How did I make this intriguing to the reader?

I had another character change his socks. He’s an incredibly cold-hearted medieval assassin. Having him wrap his feet in wool strips humanized him for me. Hopefully, it will surprise the reader to learn that he’s more than just a cutthroat automaton. Is there some aspect of a character that you haven’t shown the reader yet?

Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with having some chapters not live up to others. Take what steps you can to liven them up, but it’s important to get them scribbled down so you can move on to the good stuff. At the editing stage you can look back at your novel as a night sky. Where is there too much dark space? Where do the stars cluster together and shine too bright?

Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?

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9 thoughts on “Tip #22: All About Chapters

  1. Excellent! Pacing the novel is a real skill. Too much action and you’re exhausted as a writer and a reader. Plus I think what a character does when they’re not fighting for their lives (or whatever shenanigans they’re wrapped up in) is enlightening!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, all true of the level I try to focus on as well, the scene. My challenge comes from deciding what makes a collection of scenes into a cohesive chapter. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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