Sunday, December 21, 2008

... on chapters

I just sent the revised chapter 7 out to the critics. This chapter had some of the biggest alterations since the beginning, mostly centered around Jyre. Three of her scenes were very nearly rewritten, with one totally new one drafted to fill a careless gap. (Of course that means that there's new 1st draft material in this chapter, which means it will need attention during the next revision after this one.) The unexpected thing, however, was my decision to end the chapter about 12 thousand words earlier.

I take what constitutes a chapter fairly seriously, not only because it's important in general, but because the story is going to be released as a serial and each chapter needs to be able to stand as an episode. Even when the story is published as printed volumes I am not sure yet where the divisions will fall, and I don't want to compromise any of the books because one of the chapters isn't structured just right. The rules for what makes a chapter are quite flexible. As I am writing I tend to think of 20 thousand words as the 'standard' length for a chapter, though a few are shorter and most are longer. Each chapter tends to have a theme or a tone which makes it distinct from those around it. I try to give each one a sort-of arc, with a beginning, middle, and end, though what constitutes those is of course very open to interpretation. As a rule I try to avoid 'cliffhanger' endings because I happen to think that's slightly childish especially when done over and over. It works for the serial format because the reader then is anticipating the next chapter a week later, but in printed form it's a bit meaningless unless it's a chapter-a-night bedtime story. Basically it has to work as both - a novel and a serial - or I avoid it. I think the simplest, and most pure rule is this - if I can think of a short title that sums up the chapter's essence, it works. If I cannot, then there's a problem.

So, chapter 7 was giving me trouble. First of all, it was the longest so far, and the second longest of the entire story at 31K words, very far above the standard length. However I didn't think that it was the length that was causing the problem. After going over it a few times, I realised what was happening. The first half of the chapter was devoted to continuing and concluding events from chapter 6. It took the main action of those adventures and provided an epilogue for them, and set up the way the story was going to progress from there. Then, after about 19K words, it switched to new events which were of a considerably different tone and focus from chapter 6. I thought, okay, split it in two - but it wasn't that simple. It was very, very clear where Chapter 7 wanted to end, and it was at around the 19K word mark. I couldn't split it in two and have one of the chapter be a mere 12K words, which would be painfully off balance from the rest of the story. Length isn't the most important aspect, I reminded myself, what felt right for the chapter was. So, with that in mind, I wrote in 'End Chapter 7' where I wanted it to go, declared the rest of 7 to be the new Chapter 8, and changed the titles of both to things that I felt were far more fitting than the original title for the old 7.

So now figuring out how to make a 12K word Chapter 8 right is going to be interesting. I have a few ideas, but it doesn't involve chopping off bits of the old Chapter 8 and adding them on to the end. The structure of that one is just how I want it, and it doesn't need to lose its beginning.


ehcmier said...

Heh heh. Nice! ;)

Dan said...

You always know just what to say, Jason. ;)