Musing: Chapter by Chapter


Torture your characters, not yourself.

I nearly forgot the excitement of writing new chapters.   A lot can be accomplished by writing ‘blind’.   It can lend a natural flow of the chapter and keep the dialogue organic, but it also can lead to a rambling mess.   With a simple outline and clear goals, you can have freedom with some organization.

I learned the trick writing the Macro Corp.   It worked amazingly.

When I say simple outline, I mean acknowledging where you want the story to go and what you want it to accomplish.  You’d be surprised how much control you gain by simply telling yourself:  “The character’s start here, accomplish this, and end up here.”  This gives you a sense of focus.   It also lets you spot opportunity for twists.

If your story is on rails, the urge to go off those rails increases.   Sometimes it’s the best thing to do, but it inevitably makes you need to rewrite your outline.   If you keep your original and follow the path made by your detour, you can see at a glance what taking this detour accomplishes.   It could vary the outcome of the story, or simply strengthen (or weaken) a later event.   You can spot redundancies and realize if you bring up a point in chapter ten you can drop the point in fifteen.

Organization can cause better chaos.   Ponder it for a moment.

Writing a book can feel like monitoring a stove top covered in boiling kettles at times.   You might need to increase a burner.  You might need to lift a cap to vent steam.  You might want to let the top blow off at times.

I’ve noticed a lot of writers try to be control freaks with their stories, they leash them and obsess over what scene ‘needs’ to be shown in what order.   In doing this they lose sight of a more important aspect of writing.  The most important thing to push in a story is character motivation.  Through this you can inspire natural plot progression and breathe life into the characters.


You wouldn’t do it to your kids (hopefully), so don’t do it to your characters.

If you treat your characters like chess pieces bending to the whim of the authorial overlord, they will become that.  It spreads like a virus as the story goes on infecting every aspect of the tale.  Ask yourself: what do the characters want to do?  If you don’t like it?   Throw an obstacle in their way, a consequence for making the wrong choice.  It is up to you if they overcome this, or run away with their tail between their legs.

A good author torments their creations out of love.  Without conflict a story becomes a sunny stroll down a happy street.   Boring.  A bursting water main, a truck splashing them with mud, or a sudden downpour makes their journey mean something.

Real life throws these curve-balls all the time, and it’s one of the ‘realistic’ things that belong in fantasy.   Building a sandcastle just to smash it into bits is a part of the writing process, one not for the faint of heart.

2 thoughts on “Musing: Chapter by Chapter

  1. “I nearly forgot the excitement of writing new chapters.”

    As a wise man once said, I know dat feel, bro. Writing new chapters? Pretty freakin’ great — and I’d feel even better if I could blow through all the chapters I want. Alas, life always manages to interfere — that, and dogs that seem to derive some sick pleasure from trolling me. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to shake your fist at the sky and scream at the moon.

    Well, whatever. You know, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to stray from DA PLAN — you know, an outline, or a guideline, or whatever-line. I mean, I made A PLAN for NaNoWriMo last year, and that led to some deviations (well, more than “some”, arguably), but I can’t help but feel like there’s a chance for some real thrills by coming up with a road map — and then burning that map to ashes to completely doing something different. It sounds fun. Exciting. Funciting.

    Hey, I’ll go to quite a few lengths to torture my characters. Like you don’t even know, man. You don’t even know.

    • I’m taking some chances while writing Two Destroyer’s follow up and one of these detours forced me to rewrite my entire outline. It ended up being a good thing, but it effectively makes my Alpha draft unusable.

      As I mention in “Benching your darlings” it doesn’t mean the chapters are useless, it just means I’m better off writing the new chapter from scratch rather than adapting them.

      Nano is a different story, you’re working on a budget of time so making such a drastic change is a type of strategy, if you know clearly what the change will do go for it. If not? It might be an idea to save for the second draft.

Throw in your two cents -- Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s