So How Long Should a Chapter Be?

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When I write my novels, I think of each chapter as an episode, or a little story within the bigger story, and a specific event occurs in each chapter. Let’s say your protagonist plans to meet up with another character, but then something unexpected happens. Maybe she has an accident on her way to the meeting and she’s rushed to the hospital. That would certainly be a little story within the bigger story. And since I like to have a strong ending to my chapters, I might end with the man she was supposed to meet thinking he’s been stood up. The next chapter would be a new episode about what he does next.

So, how long should a chapter be? Simple. It’s as long as it needs to be to tell the story. I’ve written chapters as short as a page and a half, and as long as ten pages. There really is no hard and fast rule for chapter length, at least not one that I’m aware of. So don’t worry about the page count; just concentrate on telling your story.

Happy writing.

GM

 

Watch Out for Exclamation Points!!!

Exclamation PointsFilmmakers have certain advantages over writers, particularly fiction writers. They get to use musical scores to help build the tension. We’ve seen it dozens of times. The unsuspecting protagonist goes into the seemingly deserted mansion, unaware that the villain is lurking inside, waiting to pounce. As the protagonist gets closer, the music builds to a crescendo. “Dum dum-ta-dum–BOOM.” The boom of course, being when the bad guy leaps out of nowhere, landing right in front of the protagonist, who now either has to fight or run for dear life.

We writers unfortunately don’t have the luxury of having background music, so we have to come up with alternative ways to build the tension, thus creating the temptation to use exclamation points. After all, the sentence, “he leaped out of the closet at Joe.” with just a plain old period at the end looks kind of boring on the printed page. Therefore, “he leaped out of the closet at Joe!!” would look a whole lot better. Right?

Well, not necessarily.

Using exclamation points in the narrative means you’re shouting at your readers, which they may find annoying. A better way to build the tension would be to use more effective verbs and modifiers. So, instead of saying, “He heard the footsteps and waited until the time was right. Then he leaped out of the closet at of Joe.” Try something like, “He heard Joe’s footsteps coming closer. He held his breath, not wanting to give himself away. The footsteps grew louder. He could make out the dark shadow of a human form as it entered the room. He stood by, unable to move. The footsteps thumped louder and louder as they came closer and closer. Beads of sweat popped out across his forehead. It was time. He leaped out of the closet at Joe.”

By using effective verbs and modifiers in your narrative to build the tension an exclamation point becomes unnecessary.

So what about dialog? People shout when they are excited, surprised, under stress, or angry. I will, on rare occasions, use an exclamation point in dialog, but if I do, it’s only when a character is having an “aha” moment. I think of exclamation points in dialog as hot chili peppers. A little bit goes a long, long way. Most of the time I use tags, such as, “It’s over here,” yelled Jody, or “Look out,” exclaimed Bob.

Good storytelling is all about conflict and drama. Just don’t shout at your readers!

GM

 

Knowing When to Quit, Part One

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Back in my college days, when I was majoring in art, one of my painting professors made a profound statement that I’ll always remember. He said, “Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done, otherwise he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”

It’s extremely difficult artists to look at their work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we finally realize we’ve overworked something it may be too late to salvage it.

Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One of the biggest, and most obvious, would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.

As I was nearing the end of the story I’d resolved the main conflict, but as I tied up the loose ends one of the antagonists threatened to go after my protagonist for a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. Unfortunately, in this instance, the conflict would have been too similar to the conflict in the first book, which would have made the sequel redundant. All I could have done was rehash the same story. How boring. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I decided to write a definitive ending and leave my novel as a stand alone book. I did it by killing off the antagonist and ending the feud once and for all.

Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, then go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it probably means your story has become too redundant.

GM