Let’s talk about chapter endings. The chapters in your books should be like links in a chain. Each of them should have a unique purpose and move your story forward.
Chapter length in self-published e-books tends to be between 1,000 to 2,000 words. Traditionally published books tend to have longer chapters (depending on genre).
As an author your goal is to end a chapter in a way that makes it hard for the reader to put down your book. Ideally you want your reader to carry on to the next chapter or at least be excited to continue reading your book next time. A chapter should never end in a boring or mediocre manner.
One way to ensure that the tension is maintained is through the use of cliffhangers. Posing a question or having an explosive action take place and then not answering the question, stopping mid-dialogue or mid-action, ensures that your reader will want to know more.
This is however not the only way to make your reader turn the page, you can also do it in a ‘quieter’ and less ‘dramatic’ manner. For example you could end a chapter with a leading remark or imply a question, something could be foreshadowed or your protagonist could have an eye-opening realization.
To have a closer look at well-crafted chapter endings I will analyze a part of the book ‘Don’t look back’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout.
Warning spoiler alert below
In the YA thriller ‘Don’t look back’, the protagonist Samantha suffers from Amnesia. After she is missing for several days she resurfaces covered in blood. Her friend Cassie, who had gone missing with her, does not return and soon it becomes clear that Cassie is dead. Samantha struggles to remember her old life and what happened that night when Cassie died.
This book was an absolute page-turner. Each time when I finished a chapter, I wanted to continue reading. Let’s break the chapter endings down to understand what was so appealing about Jennifer L. Armentrout’s work.
Chapter 1: ends with Samantha finding out that her friend Cassie is still missing.
This is a good ending because in addition to being overwhelmed by seeing family that she can’t remember and having to talk to police, Samantha understands that whatever happened is far from being over.
Chapter 2: ends with Samantha realizing that she doesn’t like the person she used to be before the trauma. Her brother fills her in that she used to be a terrorizing, mean girl.
The ending works because it becomes clear that not only will Samantha have to struggle with the ongoing investigation into Cassie’s disappearance, regaining her memories but also with trying to fit into the old life that is now so foreign to her.
Chapter 3: ends with Samantha receiving an anonymous note, warning her not to look back at the past.
This was the point where the suspense kicked in for me full-force. Knowing that there’s someone out there, who will hurt Samantha if she doesn’t behave the way he wants her to, raises the stakes of the novel significantly.
Chapter 4: ends with Samantha realizing that while her family and friends encourage her to move on and not think too much about what has happened with Cassie, she can’t do that.
This foreshadows that Samantha will try to find out what had happened to Cassie and will thus (probably) become the target for whoever is sending her the notes or the killer (if there is one).
Chapter 5: ends with Samantha overwhelmed at school, trying to find her way around. She also realizes that the situation could be worse, because she could have been Cassie.
Again this foreshadows that Cassie is indeed dead and that Samantha herself isn’t completely out of the danger zone either. Even though nothing scary happens, the fact that the chapter ends with Samantha thinking that she could be dead; amps up the tension.
Chapter 6: ends with Samantha having a vision of Cassie.
This is a cliffhanger, since the vision continues in chapter 7. The reader wants to turn the page to find out more about Cassie, but also because this is the first sign of Samantha’s memory coming back.
Hopefully, the above examples will help you in creating an exciting and meaningful way to end your chapters. If you still feel like your chapter endings don’t have enough zest to them, I would suggest taking a book that you admire from the genre you write in and analyzing its chapter endings. Try to understand what you like and what you don’t, what works and what doesn’t and why.
Revisions are a necessary part of writing. No matter how much you have outlined before actually writing your first draft, I am sure you will find that some aspects of your story aren’t making sense or that your transitions aren’t as smooth as they need to be, when you start editing.
After you have polished your draft, you will need to get a second opinion. I would suggest asking someone, who has the time and the will to invest into reading a whole novel and someone, who you think might be the target audience for your genre.
If you have friends or fellow writer colleagues that have different strengths, try giving the manuscript to at least one person, who can focus on the overall picture and one that is best at the nitty gritty stuff (hello grammar).
Overall, the feedback that you want to receive can be split into three categories: content, perception and craft.
When it comes to content you want to ask your critique partners the following questions.
- Did you need to know more about something (a plot line, backstory, a character…)?
- Did the story overall make sense? Would you be able to summarize its gist to someone in a few minutes?
- Was the story overall enjoyable? If not, what was the problem (slow hook, dragging middle part, unsatisfactory ending)?
Next up is perception. Below are a few helpful questions to ask.
- Who do you think is the target audience? Do you think the target audience would enjoy this story?
- Do you think the story makes a point/has a theme?
- How did you feel, after you finished reading the novel?
- Would you recommend it to anyone else? Why/why not?
- Was the story/its characters/the dialogue believable?
Finally, you need to talk about craft. That doesn’t necessarily mean grammar, even though if you’re lucky a friend/reading critique partner might agree to do a spell-check for you.
- Did you like the language used in the novel? Was it clear/reader friendly?
- Did the beginning grab your attention?
- Was the tension increasing throughout the middle until the climax?
- Did the ending answer all the questions you had?
- Was anything confusing? Were there incongruities throughout the story?
- Do you think the balance between narration/description and dialogue was good?
Of course, there are many more questions that you could ask your readers. This is just a starting point. I would also suggest that you put your manuscript away for a while and then when you review it again, answer those questions yourself.
Most importantly ask yourself whether you told an interesting and worthwhile story.
Conflicts are essential to a good novel, and dilemmas are an excellent and exciting form of conflict. Dilemmas also emotionally involve your reader and ensure that they turn page after page.
The dilemma the protagonist faces should create internal and external conflict. It is supposed to produce discomfort and dissatisfaction and force the main character to take action under pressure. These pressured choices do not only increase the tension in your novel but are also a great way to reveal the true nature of your characters.
Therefore, the dilemma can’t be easy or obvious. If option A is clearly right and option B is clearly wrong, the reader won’t be sitting on the edge of the seat wondering what the protagonist will do next and whether it is the best choice.
To create a true dilemma the choice should either be between two mutually exclusive desirable options or the protagonist is forced to choose between two evils.
Great dilemmas can be much more complex with various pros and cons. If the outcome affects not just the protagonist but also people he/she cares about even better.
Either way the protagonist’s struggle shouldn’t be contrived. It needs to be a genuine heart wrenching decision.
I have chosen three books, to examine how they deal with the dilemma of the protagonist. The first book ‘The winner’s curse’ by Marie Rutkoski does an exceptional job. The second book does a fairly good job – ‘The Selection’ by Kiera Cass. Finally, the dilemma chosen in ‘99 days’ by Katie Cutugno was rather lacking.
Warning spoiler alerts below.
In ‘The winner’s curse’ the protagonist Krestel, is part of the Valorian society that has conquered and enslaved the Herrani. Krestel, a gentle soul, purchases at an auction a slave, Arin, and falls in love with him.
Already struggling with her forbidden feelings for Arin, pleasing her father and the superficial society around herself, Krestel’s world is plunged upside down, when Arin starts a rebellion, to take back the land that is rightfully the Herrani’s. As a daughter of the general Krestel is torn between the two men she loves and the desire to protect both nations.
The dilemma is very intense in the book. From the start the reader becomes aware that Krestel does not agree with her father and the Valorian Empire that it is all right to enslave weaker countries. She also dislikes suppression on a personal level and always stands up for the slaves, when they are treated unfairly. However, she does not expect the Herrani to rebel and overthrow the status quo.
The night of the rebellion Krestel finally admits her feelings for Arin, but feels immediately betrayed by him, when she realizes that he has been plotting a rebellion behind her back. In order to keep her safe, Arin claims Krestel as his, when the Herrani overthrow the city. Krestel is torn between the desire to help the man she loves and the sense of duty to her father (the General), her people (Valerians) and the empire.
What I truly loved about this book was that it was easy to understand Krestel’s dilemma. As a reader all of her actions made sense and that create empathy for the protagonist. It was also nice to see that while Krestel falls in love, she does not loose the sense of who she is.
Let’s compare this to a book that is able to produce a dilemma but not on the same scale. In ‘The Selection’ by Kiera Cass, the heroine America struggles between her feelings for her old boyfriend and Prince Maxom. As one of 35 girls she lives in the palace, while Maxom tries to find his wife among them (Dystopia meets the Bachelor).
While I can see the appeal of her ex-boyfriend Aspen (he is loyal, a family man, hard working and handsome), Maxom has all of these characteristics as well, in addition to being nothing but kind to America, while Aspen hurts her in the beginning of the novel, breaking up with America because his honor at not being able to provide for her, was insulted.
Personally, I felt the choice was clear in favor of Maxom, until the very end of the novel, when Aspen becomes a guard at the palace and confesses that he still loves America and never had another girlfriend.
Thus, for half of the book it is easy for the reader to feel annoyed with America rather than feel empathy for her, since she appears to be so clueless about the prince’s affection for her, which he shows profusely (giving her the winnings of a bet, even when she looses; giving her exclusive privileges; sharing his military plans with only her and none of the other contestants; not complaining when she knees him in his groin J).
It doesn’t feel like a real dilemma, since she likes Maxom, he likes her, and she’s far away from Aspen, whom she believes has moved on. The tides only change in the last quarter of the book, when Aspen comes to the palace.
The final example I’ll present is the novel ‘99 days’ by Katie Cutugno. While it was well written and kept me turning the pages, the dilemma that the main protagonist, Molly, faced, was excruciating at times.
After a year of boarding school, Molly returns home to a small-town, for 99 days before she goes off to college. She left originally due to her mother writing a book and exposing that Molly had cheated on her long-term boyfriend Patrick with his brother Gabe.
The story follows Molly as she dates Gabe, who is the only person in the small town that sticks up for her in public, while sneaking around with Patrick. Besides the fact that both brothers are good looking, and Molly grew up with them and likes the familiarity of each of them, it was hard to root for either of them. Patrick was downright mean to Molly, insulting her and treating her like garbage, while Gabe seemed to be more interested in winning something of his brothers’, than in Molly.
Therefore, as a reader it was at times hard to identify with Molly’s dilemma. Neither choice was right and seemed beneath the heroine, making it hard to feel empathy for her.
While there is nothing wrong with a dilemma between two unappealing choices- trying to figure out the lesser evil, this wasn’t applicable for a book set in the 21st century. If Molly was living in even the 19th century and had to choose between the two boys, because marriage was non-negotiable, it would’ve made sense. Here, however it felt as if the heroine was torturing herself without a point, particularly because she was going off to college in three months. If she were at least stuck in the small town for another two years of high school, it would’ve created more compassion for her plight.
It is necessary that the protagonist deals with some sort of dilemma throughout your novel, but the dilemma should be chosen with care. It needs to be believable and not feel contrived; otherwise it will be hard to create empathy for the protagonist and make the reader root for them.
There’s nothing worse than stilted, pointless and/or confusing dialogue. As discussed in my previous post, dialogue is the quickest way to make a scene come alive and add some drama, but only if it is done correctly. Let’s examine some ground rules for dialogue.
- Use distinctive voices
If all of your characters talk the same, your reader will have a hard time distinguishing between them and will get bored soon.
Think about the voice of each of your characters. It has been molded by multiple variables, including:
- Personality traits
You have three female sixteen-year-old characters that belong to the popular clique in high school. While their socioeconomic background, age and popularity level at high school is similar; other variables are unique to each of the character. Let’s look at how their family situation could influence the way they speak.
Character A: Uses clipped sentences; something she picked up from her father, whom she adores and who’s in the military.
Character B: Talks slowly and prefers to manufacture the perfect phrase in her head before she speaks. It is a coping mechanism she learned to avoid setting her temperamental mother off
Character C: Says the first words that pop into her head and is brutally honest. Her mother is a therapist and an artist, who believe in expressing emotions.
- Vary the dialogue
If you always follow your speech up with he/she said, your reader would soon get fatigued. Instead vary between telling us, who just spoke, to showing what action they were doing, to leaving both out when the reader can tell, who is speaking.
“But I didn’t steal the money,” Kara said.
Her mother looked at her for a long time as if she was considering the statement. “All I know is that it’s gone and you were the last person in the house.”
Kara shook her head. This was so typical for her mother. Always trying to accuse her of everything.
“Look, Kara, you can tell me, I won’t be mad. I promise. Just tell me the truth.”
“Why do you always think it’s me?” Kara grabbed her purse and hurried out of the house, slamming the door behind her.
As you can see from the dialogue above, I have even added in inner monologue to create variation. Dialogue can also be interrupted by narrative passages.
- Ensure that dialogue is relevant and concise
Make sure that when you use dialogue the reader either learns some new information, the plot is moved forward or the true colors of a character are revealed.
Dialogue is not idle conversation and just like each chapter, each dialogue should have a unique purpose. If you already had a scene where your protagonist discovers that her friend is untrustworthy, you shouldn’t have a second dialogue making the same point. If you don’t want to cut it, think about how you could dramatize the second dialogue. For example, you could reveal why the friend is untrustworthy or that her untrustworthiness is way more extensive than we previously thought it to be.
Furthermore, look at the separate lines of your dialogue and ask yourself whether you could tighten them up. While dialogue in novels imitates real conversation, it moves faster than in real life. It is not just the ‘ohh and ahhs’ that are omitted. Other natural speech patterns, such as echoing should be avoided.
Natural speech vs. dialogue in novel
“I’m sorry. I can’t. I’m actually going with Jordan to Italy this summer.”
“What to Italy this summer with Jordan? But you, you…you promised you would go to Madrid with me. We have been planning this for the last six months.”
“Uhh, yeah I know. But…it was sort of a surprise and…”
Are you bored already? I am. Let’s see how we could improve this.
“I’m sorry, I can’t go to Madrid this summer with you. Jordan has invited me to Italy.”
“Are you kidding me? How you could do this? We’ve been planning this for the last six months and now you’re going to toss me aside for a guy you’ve met two weeks ago?”
Not only is the passage more concise, but we also find out that character A has only known Jordan for two weeks, from which we can infer that she either falls in love quickly, is reckless, doesn’t care about her friend, or all of the above. Notice how removing the echo and the stammering, allows us to shorten the dialogue, while adding new information.
In summary, when writing dialogue ensure that each of your characters has a distinct voice, that the dialogue is relevant and concise and that the form in which it is given is varied.
Today’s post will focus on dialogue. Ideally, your novel will have about the same ratio of dialogue to narration. This applies to both the novel and sections within it. You’ll want to avoid pages upon pages of straight dialogue, as this will quickly fatigue your reader. Conversely, a lack of dialogue detracts from the immediacy and getting to know your character, so maintain the balance is key.
Dialogue serves three main functions. It informs, it establishes characters and it moves the plot forward.
Let’s examine each of these three functions closer.
When two or more characters come together, they share knowledge, revealing information that the reader or one of the characters doesn’t know, leading to an insight or a conclusion.
Mara is dead. Katie knows that Mara had been on her way to meet her ex Quinn. Jenifer knows that Quinn didn’t show up to the date, because he was with her the whole night.
When Jenifer discloses the above information in a dialogue with Katie, we know that Quinn could not have killed Mara and that someone else has to be the murderer.
Choose carefully what information you include. Always ask yourself why it is necessary for the reader to know XZY. If it is not necessary to understand the story, cut it. Dialogue is not an excuse to dump large amount of information on your reader.
Dialogue establishes characters
While your main protagonist might think of herself as loyal, it doesn’t mean that she truly is. Her actions and dialogue with friends, employers, or lovers will reveal who she truly is.
Ellen sees her boyfriend Martin kissing another girl. Before she can decide what to do Martin looks up and notices her. He walks over to her.
“Ellen, what are you doing here?” he stumbles.
The way Ellen reacts to this situation and what she will say to Martin is way more telling of her personality, than a hypothetical situation in her head or an inner monologue that she has, while making breakfast.
Remember, the decisions that your characters make under pressure, reveal their true nature.
Dialogue moves plot forward
This can be done in various ways, such as a conflict between two characters or the introduction of a new character.
Megan thinks that the hateful texts she has been receiving for weeks are from her frenemy Emily. She decides to confront Emily at her locker.
“Emily, when will you grow up and stop being a coward.”
“What are you talking about, Megan?”
“I know you’re the one who’s been sending all these nasty texts to me.”
Emily blanches. “I haven’t…”
“I won’t let you deny it.” Megan grabs Emily’s phone out of her hands, only to realize that Megan has received the same texts. “You got them too?”
The above passage could’ve been written in narrative form and while it would’ve moved the plot forward, it would’ve been less dramatic. Dialogue helps build tension. It is also the simplest and most effective way to bring a scene to life.
Therefore, important information should be conveyed through dialogue, while insignificant details (e.g. weather conditions, appearance of a building) can be summarized in brief descriptive passages.
It is crucial to remember that dialogue in novels is never idle conversation. In real life it might be used to pass the time, but in a novel it always has a purpose.
Description can be difficult to write. In contrast to dialogue and action, description does not move the story forward. Nonetheless, it is important since it provides your reader with sensory information. The more vivid the images you create, the more immersed the reader will become with the story.
As with anything, writing good description comes from lots of practice, which includes reading many books. But there are certain pitfalls that you should be aware of and avoid as much as possible.
- Avoid using adverbs (words ending with –ly)
Look at the original examples below and their improved versions. I think you will agree that the second statement is way more powerful.
She ate the pizza hungrily → She devoured the pizza
She closed to the door loudly → She slammed the door
She begged him earnestly → She beseeched him
Pay particular attention to your use of adverbs in dialogue. Your reader will fatigue quickly if each he/she said is followed by heartily, sadly, angrily, etc.
- Avoid using vague, inactive, or passive verbs
He ran towards the school → He raced towards the school
Edward had been lied to by Thomas → Thomas had lied to Edward
He had been imprisoned by the Greek gods → The Greek gods had imprisoned him
- Avoid using vague nouns
The house was big → The house was the size of a mansion
She drove an expensive car → She drove a Jaguar
Her hair was blond → Her hair was the color of corn
- Avoid using look/feel
When you use these words, you immediately remind the reader that this is a story and they are looking from the outside in. When you eliminate these words, the reader feels more connected to your story
She looked at the forest in front of her → There was a forest in front of her
She gazed at the restaurant across the street → There was a restaurant across the street
She felt tired → Her limbs ached and her eyelids were heavy
She felt hungry → Her stomach growled
- Avoid using too many adjectives
It was a warm, sunny day with a baby blue sky and tiny clouds floating slowly through the pleasant air → It was a warm day. The sun was out and the sky was blue
The smell wafting from her was sweet and delicious. Her curly, long, full, red hair hung across her delicate, pale, shoulder. → A flowery smell wafted from her. Her red mane hung across her porcelain shoulder.
To summarize, when writing your description employ strong verbs and nouns, avoid excessive use of adjectives and adverbs, as well as phrases like she saw/she felt.
To some writer coming up with a story is the easiest part of writing a novel, while for others that might prove the hardest part.
No matter whether this is easy for you or require conscious effort, you won’t be able to write a book, without a clear concept of what your story is and of what you are trying to tell your reader.
Below I have summarized three methods you can fall back on if you’re having trouble generating story ideas:
1.The ‘what if’ scenario
In this technique you imagine an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation.
- What if a high school student discovered that she had the powers to cure diseases?
- What if a jewelry store employee overheard a plan to rob the store, and she is the only one able to prevent it?
- What if a housewife discovers that her husband had been cheating with her sister and has produced a love child?
What is great about this technique is that it’s simple and quick. You can generate many ideas in half an hour and then narrow it down to the best ones.
- The four steps model
Another way of finding your story is to use the four steps model below.
- Protagonist needs A
Decide who your hero is, what he needs and why.
- Antagonist needs B
The need of the antagonist should be the opposite of what the protagonist wants or in direct conflict with need A, meaning that only A or B can be fulfilled.
Don’t limit yourself to thinking of the antagonist as the bad guy. There are three levels of antagonistic force: within us, in personal relationships and in social relationships. To add depth to your story and make it more interesting, it is best to have conflict on all three levels.
- Obstacles that lead to main conflict
Think of plausible obstacles that you can throw into the way of your protagonist and how he would try to overcome them. What is the final obstacle that appears insurmountable?
How is the protagonist able to resolve the final conflict and win against the antagonistic forces? What is the implication of him winning? How does it change his life and the lives of those around him (provide glimpse of the future)?
The above technique will appeal most to those writers that start out by thinking about the plot. If you are more character driven, you might prefer the third method outlined below.
3.Creating Story through Characters
There are three steps to this method:
1.Decide on three characters:
- 3rd Character dependent on genre
– Romance: love interest of protagonist
– History/fantasy: King, mentor, etc….
– Thriller: FBI agent, victim, etc…
- Give each of your three characters a friend
- Think of at least one secret that each character has
For example: Genre: Romance
Sheila – gives government funded art classes to underprivileged kids. Secret: blames herself for the dissolution of her marriage
Dora – works with Sheila. Secret: has accepted a new job and hasn’t told Sheila yet
Dean – manages the school where the art classes take place. Secret: distrusts every woman ever since his Ex cheated on him
Martin – knows Dean since childhood, they meet up weekly to catch up. Secret: is in debt
Jeremy- decides where funding goes and does not agree with funding something as “useless” as art classes. Secret: was a failed artist, prior to becoming government employee
Jack – works with Jeremy in funding department. Secret: has a crush on Sheila
Now that you have decided on your three main characters and their friends (secondary characters) and given them each a secret, I hope it is easy for you to see how this information would translate into possible stories.
If you’re unsure about what method works best for you, try them all then stick to the one that feels most natural to you. You might also decide that you want to use a combination of all three.
But how can you check that you’ve covered the main bases rather than got lost in extraneous details?
Below I have outlined nine crucial questions you need to check off before actually starting to write your novel.
- What does the Protagonist want?
This is the deepest desire of your main character. Make it a good one. How good? So good that someone would want to read 200 to 400 pages about it.
2. What is holding them back from getting it?
This should include inner and outer obstacles. If you have only inner obstacles, you automatically decrease the tension building in your novel. If you only have outer obstacles, your novel won’t have much depth.
3. What are they willing to sacrifice to get it?
Again this should be a good one. Not just money and time. Perhaps they’re willing to sacrifice their safety, their loved ones or their sanity. Really think about this one.
4. How far can we push them?
This has to feel realistic based on the psychological and physical attributes of your protagonist.
5. How do the protagonist’s problems relate to the problems of your target reader audience?
Readers like to recognize themselves in books. If you are writing for teenagers, it is crucial to discuss issues pertaining to them, such as bullying, sexual awakening, legal & illegal drugs.
If you’re writing for twenty and thirty-something’s issues related to career, finding a long-term partner and work-life balance are inevitable.
6. What is the outer problem?
The outer issue must put more than just the protagonist at risk. It needs to endanger people they care about, to make the protagonist move mountains in order to overcome it.
Ask what the worst outcome would be, if the outer problem is resolved, and what the worst outcome would be if it is not resolved.
7. What is the inner problem of the protagonist?
Show, don’t tell and don’t do it too early. If it is trust issues, don’t tell the reader that the protagonist has a hard time trusting people, instead show it by depicting his/her relationships. The inner problem should also be buried within your story, so that the reader has to work to figure it out.
Consider what the protagonist has to do to overcome the inner problem and what is currently stopping him/her from doing so.
8. Connection between inner & outer problem
Establish the connection between the two plot lines. All of your plot lines should be interwoven into one story.
9. How will you increase the problems throughout story?
Always remember that the tension increases throughout your novel until the climax. If you are not able to make the obstacles more difficult and the stakes higher with each chapter, you are likely to bore and thus loose your reader.
If this is your first novel, asking and answering the above questions might be a daunting task. But it is necessarily to do so to write a good story. Investing time up front, can save you weeks and months of writing that is going nowhere.
It might be tempting to sit down and start writing down the first idea you had. Perhaps it was a scene or a certain type of protagonist that you saw in your head and you’re afraid that you will lose the inspiration if you don’t start jotting everything down immediately.
By all means if you have an idea do put it on paper, but I would caution you from starting a novel without having a basic outline of your book.
If you don’t know your synopsis, you might find yourself writing 20,000 or more words only to realize that your story is going nowhere, that you don’t know what your climax and resolution will be, and that you have no idea how to escalate the tension.
Writing a synopsis and chapter summaries may sound like a dreadful task but in the long run it will safe you a lot of time and effort. There is no point in wasting weeks or months, if simply dedicating a few days to the creation of the structure of your book, can prevent it.
But what exactly should you put into a synopsis and chapter summaries?
Let’s start with the synopsis. I would suggest that you aim for no more than one page. Your synopsis is a rough script of your novel with all the major plot points. You do not need to plan or outline every minuscule detail in here. But it is necessary to describe the set-up, the reaction, the attack, the climax and the resolution of your novel.
If you read my previous post on novel structure (more detailed description can be found here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) then you know that I segment the novel into four equal parts. Each part has crucial beats. Ensure that these beats are covered in your synopsis.
You might be tempted not to dwell on how your novel will end, in order to give yourself maximum of “creative freedom”, but I would caution against that. If you don’t know what will happen during the climax and the resolution, it is very difficult to built-up to them, and know what to foreshadow during the first 75% of your novel.
After you’ve written your synopsis it is time to create a chapter by chapter summary. Decide how long you want your novel to be, how many chapters it will have and then divide the length of the novel by the chapters, in order to get an estimate of how many words you should aim for in each chapter.
Let’s say you’ve decided that the length of your novel will be 70,000 words and you will have 40 Chapters.
70 000: 40 = 1,750
Thus, you’re aiming for 1,750 words per chapter. Think about how many scenes each chapter will have. For the above length I would suggest no more than 3 scenes per chapter.
While you might find it boring to write a chapter summary it is an important step that will help you pace your story, ensure that you don’t forget important events, and will also make it easier for you to write. Sitting down in front of a blank page can be very daunting. Sitting down in front of a page and knowing a rough outline of what you’re going to write, is way easier.
Below is an example of what a chapter summary could look like:
Chapter 8 (Inciting incident)
- Peter discovers a card showing him a treasure island located not too far away from his hometown
- He decides that if there really is treasure to be found it would save his family from financial ruin
- Peter begins putting together all the essentials to start his trip
- His friend Jack walks in on him and Peter has to tell him about the island
- Jack wants to come too and has a boat, so Peter agrees
Since everyone has a different style you might find yourself writing a less or more detailed chapter summary. The goal is not to plan out every tiny detail but rather provide a solid foundation to ensure that you don’t go too much off base from the story in your head.
Finally, chapter summaries are a wonderful tool for evaluating whether you have done enough foreshadowing in your novel. All that happens in part 4, the resolution, needs to have been foreshadowed in the previous three parts, since you want to make the reader feel as if they could’ve predicted the outcome of the story, if they had only paid more attention.
The next post will discuss key questions to ask before writing a novel.
Yesterday, I attended the free of charge Orlando book festival. I highly recommend the event for aspiring and seasoned writers and look forward to similar events by the library of Orlando, since it provides writers with a chance to network, and ask published authors questions.
Allison Brennan, a best selling Thriller writer, gave the opening keynote. Allison’s story about how she transitioned from a ‘regular’ job to becoming a writer was really inspirational. She shared with the audience how for three years, after she had realized that she wanted to write professionally, she gave up the TV and other activities to write daily from 9pm to 12 am (after her five, yes five (!), children were in bed.)
What really fascinated my besides Allison’s wonderful work ethic, was how thorough she is in her novel research. Instead of doing a little research online and leaving it at that, she finds people through her network that actually work in the jobs her protagonists have and interviews them to get a thorough sense of what their schedule looks like, which is often the inside scoop on crime investigations. Moreover, Allison doesn’t shy away from hand-on research, visiting the morgue and even participated in S.W.A.T. training.
After a promising start to the day, I listened to a panel on world building with writers Meredith McCardle (YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy), L.E. Perez (various genres) and William Hatfield (Sci-Fi/Fantasy), moderated by Racquel Henry of Writer’s Atelier.
The authors stressed how important it is to keep files (off or online) describing the world you set your story in, especially for series in order to avoid inconsistencies and save yourself time and agony later on.
They also discussed how the external worlds impacts their characters versus how the characters influence the world they live in. Ultimately, each writer must decide whether it is the external world that drives the story (e.g. The Hunger Games) or if the characters are driving the story (e.g. Divergent).
While I do not intend to write for children, the next panel on that topic was immensely helpful, since the authors explained why the publishing process takes such a long time (between one to two years). They stressed that it isn’t just the author, who faces rejection, but that agents have to convince editors, who in turn have to convince their sales team and bookstores to stock their client’s work.
My favorite panel was the last one, crafting tension with J.A. Souders (YA Sci-fi/Fantasy), Sarah Andre (Romantic suspense), Ward Larsen (Thriller). The authors highlighted that tension needs to be maintained throughout the novel. No matter how small a scene is you should always attempt to make it suspenseful. An example was given where a character at a wedding feels her throat tingling and knows she needs to get a glass of water in order to prevent a long cough breaking out. You could either let you character ask a waiter or cross the room without obstacles, or you could make her uncomfortable as she struggles to push through each row down to the back, where the bar is, excusing herself all the way there. Thus, building anxiety and making an otherwise ‘boring’ scene exciting.
The significance of chapter beginning and ending was also discussed. If a chapter starts at a high note and ends on a high one, you are more likely to keep your reader turning the pages long after midnight, thinking I’ll just read one more.
Another valuable piece of advice given was tying your first and last scene together. I’ve actually seen this expertly done in the novel Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The book opens and ends with digging up a grave (two different scenes not repetitions). The final scene really provides a sense of closure, even though the book leaves room for a possible sequel.
Overall, I was very glad that I was able to attend the Orlando book festival. From time managing tips to advice on world and tension crafting, and inside publishing industry knowledge, the event was helpful to both seasoned and starting out writers.