A Typical Chapter

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My novel is growing chapter by chapter.
Getting a chapter done.
Here’s a look at a typical process for writing a chapter of a book.

First, I look at the plot synopsis that I have already written. It tells me the bare bones of what happens in this chapter, but often few specifics. I have to decide setting, characters present, the scenes that will Show-Don’t-Tell the plot and get a certain tone or voice in my head.

Setting is often the first thing for me. I want the story to be grounded in a specific place. Not just “my house.” It needs to be the kitchen right after Mom has just burned toast. A specific place and a specific time. This includes time of year and for a historical or futuristic novel, might include the year and the culture around that year. Just deciding this helps ground me in where the scene takes place and what sorts of actions make sense here. In the smelly kitchen, it’s unlikely to find characters dressed up in evening clothes or pirates with treasure.

Next, I decide on a goal for a scene. Often by this time, I am writing notes to myself. I find that 750words.com exercises to be helping in sorting out what is important in this section of the story. What does my character want in this scene? Can I make it a deeper need, raise the stakes? What is the disaster at the end of the scene? What happened just before this scene (Mom burned the toast!)?

My writing process is messy, circular, imperfect.

Sometimes, the setting and scene structure is clear and I just start writing and let the actions unfold as they will. Sometimes, though, I write out possible beats: what small actions could these characters take that will add up to the character seeking his/her goal?

Often, I write just a section of the scene and have to leave off because of time, or because I need more information. If needed, I research setting, events, actions, props; I free-write dialogue that might take place; I experiment and write a draft that I know is just a place-holder until I get something better done.

I like to write the scenes needed for a chapter before I stop to go back and reread. For this novel, that’s 1-3 scenes per chapter.

Later–maybe the next day–I come back and re-read everything and edit, change, omit, totally rewrite, rearrange: in short, I revise.

Then, I read everything from the beginning, looking for flow and pacing and trying to make sure the story has consistency in it’s tone and voice.

Finally, I start a new scene or chapter.

The process is messy, circular and imperfect. But in the end, it does produce a first draft. First drafts are to tell you what the story is about; second drafts are to figure out the most dramatic way to tell that story. I’m still figuring out the story of my WIP and for now, it’s going well. The process is working.

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1 Comment
  • Jarm Del Boccio
    March 28, 2012

    Good thoughts here, Darcy…much food for thought. Thanks!