Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where to Break?

Not long ago, a question was posed in one of my writing groups. A member had finished her novel and was ready to send out queries, and wondered how to determine where to break for chapters.

Huh? I was flabbergasted. The idea of one giant document that contained an entire novel / 300+ pages / 100,000+ words – just made my spine crawl with fear.

Of course, every writer is different, but I tend to write my novels AS chapters. Usually a chapter is a day, or if the day is particularly busy, I might split the day into two chapters in an effort to keep them somewhat the same length. But as the others in the group discussed chapters, I was reminded that the end of a chapter is actually supposed to be a mini-cliff hanger, something to spur the reader to continue reading.

Well, there goes my 'a day is a chapter' idea. And in truth, it wasn't a very good way to keep the chapters more or less the same length, either. Some were barely 2000 words, others 6000 or 7000. And I thought I had a book ready to be sent out for consideration!

I've been pondering how to solve this problem. Do I really have to go through another re-write and find a mini-cliff hanger for the end of each chapter? Can you imagine how poorly my protagonists would sleep if, at the end of each day, some impending doom loomed on the horizon? I wondered if there was an easier solution, both for me and for my characters.

Maybe I could just decide, "A chapter is 5000 words." Then find the end of a paragraph that was closest to that number, and declare the chapter ends at the end of the paragraph. Not exactly a moment of suspense, but people would need to continue reading to try to find a 'natural break' where they could turn out the light and go to sleep. Would that be too gimmicky? Too irritating?

Or another idea would be to eliminate the 'chapters'. It is fiction, after all. The idea is, if Tuesday ends in the middle of page 47, the next day (not necessarily Wednesday) would start in the middle of page 47. My reasoning is that starting a new day on a new page might make it too easy to turn off the light and put the book down. If the words just continued to flow, would the average reader just continue to read?

Any ideas or comments on this?

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