“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
This week I’ll be explaining the ways in which you should be planning your chapters. It took me a while to get started with this because I had no clue where to begin. I started off just writing a sentence or two describing what each chapter would consist of, but when I actually came to write each chapter, I quickly realised that this was not sufficient. Not at all. (Probably why my first novel was slow and why it’s still not finished!)
So, I learnt the hard way that my chapter plans had to be detailed and that they had to make sense. It’s not easy at times and it’s one of those tasks that seem difficult at first, but will help an awful lot down the line.
So, where to begin? You need your novel idea set in stone first and foremost. You need a beginning, a middle and an end. Are you having one book? Two? A trilogy? What’s your genre going to be? Who are your characters? You know, the obvious questions that you’d ask any new author. When you’ve got all that down, you can begin to get to grips with how you’re going to plan out your masterpiece!
[Please note that everything I mention here is the way I choose to do things. It’s not necessarily the ‘right’ way 🙂 ]
Before we start, there’s a few things we need to think about when it comes to chapters:
- Breaking up your novel into sections is essential, not only does it give a reader a break, (it’s hard enough to put a good book down as it is!) but it also helps to keep the story flowing well. If you just kept reading and reading without any structure, a book could really lose some value.
- When writing, try to aim for at least 2,500 words on average per chapter. However, longer or shorter chapters can work really well depending on what’s going down in your story – just use your own judgement. It does keep things interesting too!
- When I’ve thought up ideas in the past, it’s easy to think: one scene, on chapter. The truth is, you can incorporate multiple scenes into the same chapter as long as they are linked or are minor enough. Some bigger events are perfectly fine to have their own chapter. We all love a good juicy bit!
- Each chapter needs to end in a way that gets a reader thinking about whats happening and to give them chance to digest and understand the plot in more detail. Cliff hangers are frustratingly satisfying, and they do work.
I write down each chapter plan in three different sections; the characters involved in the scene, main events and the scenario. I also like to give my chapters a name instead of just a number, but don’t feel you have to do this. I basically just want another reason to write stupidly long and interesting words… 🙂
Characters involved – easy. What it says on the tin. Not much detailed needed here.
Main events – this section is a list of everything that happens in a particular chapter. This part of your plan could just be one or two main event that are crucial to your story. You don’t need to tell us here that your character is opening the fridge, unless of course, your fridge is about to swallow up your protagonist. (…please don’t write about that.)
The scenario – this part should be as long as you need it to be. It should describe the scene(s) in each chapter as an outline. Think of this as a mini story in itself. It needs a beginning, middle and end, just like your overall novel does.
Just so you get a little clearer idea, let’s go through a little example. I know, we’ll choose the fridge swallowing up our MC.
Characters involved: Spooky fridge, Sarah (MC), Rover the dog.
Main events: Sarah spooked by odd noises. Rover starts getting agitated because of an invisible presence. Fridge swallows up Sarah.
The scenario: Sarah comes home after a long day at work. Her boss has been at her all day, throwing unachievable deadlines her way, left right and centre. She’s getting swamped with work and is glad it’s the weekend. She gets a big lift when returning home. She gives Rover the usual fuss as he shows his excitement to see her.
She puts in a quick microwave meal and switches on the TV. Rover curls up next to her and falls asleep. Over the sounds of the TV, she begins to hear a low rumbling. She turns around to investigate, but sees nothing. She chooses to ignore it until the microwave pings.
Before she reaches the microwave, the rumbling gets louder and louder, and she soon realises it’s coming from the fridge. Rover is instantly awoken and dashes over to the kitchen, barking and snarling aggressively in front of the fridge. Nervous, Sarah grabs the fridge door and opens it, unaware of what she’ll see. She instantly feels a jerk, and gets pulled into the fridge’s contents, leaving Rover very confused.
Okay, ignore the crappy chapter. The main focus here is how I’m laying out the chapter plan. We all know we could do better than this, but this is the simple structure I use when planning out my chapters. Although, surely a spooky fridge has some potential…nah, maybe not.
The thing you need to remember is that in order to exceed, (especially in NaNoWriMo, gulp) you need to have a solid plan of your novel. You may choose a different chapter planning method, or maybe you need something that is much more or a little less detailed than the example. The most important thing is that it works for you, and no one else!
Having a well thought out plan in advance means you’ll find it much easier to get into the flow, and avoid more writer’s block episodes. How do you plan a chapter in a novel? It’d be great to hear ways of planning a novel from different perspectives 🙂