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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Where Should I Break My Chapter?

For my latest WIP, a middle grade fantasy novel, I tried something different in terms of chapter breaks. In the first draft, I didn’t use any. Sentences and paragraphs worked as they usually do and I inserted an extra line wherever I needed to indicate a passage of time or some such.

I didn’t do this because I intended to leave my manuscript chapter free. I did it because of my writing goals. While I was drafting the manuscript, I set a daily page goal. I know myself well enough to realize that if I finished a chapter and it was one or two pages short of my daily goal, I would probably stop for the day. My solution was to simply get the story down. I’d worry about chapters later.

I didn’t bother with chapters until I was well into the rewrite process. Doing it only after the plot was more or less set and I had my scenes in order, I was more aware of how I used chapters to break up my story.

Scene by Scene
Normally, each of my chapters is a separate scene. When I move on to the next scene, I add a chapter break. This works well because I tend to write scene-by-scene. Even in this manuscript some of my chapters begin and end with an individual scene. But as I inserted chapter breaks, I realized that this wasn’t always the best use of my chapters in terms of building tension.

At the beginning of the chapter, my character always has a goal, something she wants to find or hopes to accomplish. But, as often happens in life, someone or something comes along and messes everything up. This isn’t a moment of physical danger. It can be as simple as getting a message with a key bit of information. Whatever it is, my character needs to set a new goal. My job is to decide which builds the tension – including that goal at the end of one chapter or at the beginning of the next.

Cliff Hangers
Sometimes my character is struggling to meet the goal that she had at the beginning of the chapter and she is put in danger. All of a sudden, the rope she is climbing breaks. Or, she’s supposed to be alone, and someone speaks behind her. Or an alarm goes off. When I pick a time like this to add a chapter break, I create a cliff hanger and drive my reader to turn the page to read what happens next.

As you work on your current project, look at how you use chapter breaks. Are you making the best use of your chapter breaks?

SueBE blogs at One Writer's Journey.

1 comment:

  1. SueBE--Your drive to just "get the story down" goes along with Barry Lane's idea of "Down Draft, Up Draft, Dental Draft."

    In your first draft, the Down Draft, the goal is just to get the story down. Bare bones. Just the skeleton, the framework.

    Up Draft--fix the draft up. Flesh it out with details. Take care of the lame word choices you put down in the initial version. Add the imagery, the similes, the sensory details.

    Dental Draft--Like a dentist looks at every tooth and every crevice and every filling, this is the draft where writers look at every aspect--the inconsistencies, the grammar, the punctuation, the use of white space.

    I love the way you made the first draft--with no chapter breaks--work for you. They weren't important then.

    Thanks for this post, SueBE.


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