Thursday, March 6, 2014

Recalcitrant Chapters

Some chapters fight back. They induce procrastination, or stall repeatedly. Some chapters insist on being boring, or they steer the novel off course. Some chapters get worse with every revision. 

It happens to everyone, and the reasons are plentiful.
  • Nothing is happening in the chapter.
  • Too much is happening in the chapter.        
  • The subject is painful for the writer or close to a difficult memory.
  • The chapter actually belongs in another book.
  • The writer doesn’t yet understand what the chapter is supposed to achieve. 
My solution is adapted from a technique we used in the lab when experiments didn’t work. 

Figure out three ways to fix it, and try them all. 
  • Brainstorm until you come up with three completely different approaches to the chapter.
  • Outline all of them. (Forget the Roman numerals and indentations. Simply make a list of events and note character emotions and changes.)
  • Compare the pros and cons of each approach within the milieu of the novel.
  • Write the one you like best.
  • If it still doesn’t work, try another approach you’ve outlined. 
 This is my world right now. Welcome to Chapter 11.

5 comments:

Kristin Lenz said...

"The chapter actually belongs in another book." This has happened to me!

Kathy Wiechman said...

Interesting approach(es) to a common problem. I'll make a note of them. Good luck with the chapter.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Kristin: Me too. Sometimes it's the sequel, and sometimes it's something unrelated. Kathy: At at Highlights workshop, I wrote three complete first chapters from different points of view to help me decide what to do.

Wyman Stewart said...

Chapter 11? Maybe that chapter is filing for bankruptcy. Time to reorganize!

Downsize by eliminating characters (if needed in later chapters, bring them back, as needed); focus on specific characters (one or two); use fewer words to say more (action words); downsize chapter issues to one or two (resolved within chapter, if possible); if needed, bring in a specialist character to move chapter along or stay on course, then let this character move out of the story; etc. etc. Yes, a Reorganization Plan is needed!

Or, to be serious for a moment: A published writer once said: Write each chapter as a self-contained short story, linked to the other short stories (chapters).

Easier said than done, but I think the point is a good one. I'm sorry I don't remember the author's name. I never thought of a book in this way, until I read his words. Hope this helps a little. Sure my earlier ideas help not at all. Best of luck.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Thanks for the laugh and the encouragement, Wyman. I brought Chapter 11 to my critique group yesterday, and they were all quite positive about my progress - plus they offered suggestions to improve it further.