April 12th, 2017


Writing Excuses 12.15: Pacing with Chapters

Writing Excuses 12.15: Pacing with Chapters

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2017/04/09/12-15-pacing-with-chapters/

Key points: Chapters are not short stories! Intermissions, and chapter breaks, let you frame a scene. Chapter breaks are like the Vs on the ground in racing games, they zip you forward into the next chapter, boosting momentum. Changing points of view, passage of time, all these may need a break. Chapter breaks are good for pacing. Breaks when we have unfinished arcs or business pull you forward. If you don't want the reader to put your book down, use lead ins or hooks to pull them forward. But in big books, you may want to let the reader take a break. Give them a break, but also give them a reason to come back. Chapter breaks can reset the scene, move to another point of view, frame a scene. Sometimes you want thriller pacing, with mini-cliffhangers pulling readers forward and short chapters. Sometimes you don't. Chapters are about time passing, while scenes are emotional arcs. In big books, chapters end with something accomplished or discovered. In shorter books, chapters may end with smaller turning points or steps. Scenes are in a place, accomplishing a goal. A time, a place, a point of view, those define a scene. Chapters are for pacing. Also for emphasis -- the last thing in a chapter gets attention!
Collapse )

[Brandon] Unfortunately, we are out of time on this episode, but, Mary Anne, you have some homework for us.
[Mary Anne] I do. I actually have two parts of homework. Part one is, I think the book that was most useful to me in thinking about scene and tension and interruption was Italo Calvino's book If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, which is this short little book translated into English from the Italian, where he starts a story, he gets to a tense point, the chapter ends, you turn to the next chapter, he started a completely different story. But you get caught up in it, so you keep reading, you're a little frustrated, you get to the end of the chapter, and then the third chapter, he's done it again. He does this over and over and over again, for about 12 chapters, I think. It's really useful to look at like reader frustration and satisfaction. So I just recommend reading that. The other thing is that when I was first reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, it kept me up until four in the morning. I could not put the book down. It was the first book in probably a decade that had done that for me. I wanted to know why. So I sat down and I looked at it. It was actually what Mary Robinette was talking about earlier. What she does is she gives you this problem of Harry want the letters that are being delivered, and the problem keeps escalating, there are more and more and more letters. By the end of the chapter, we have… She's solved that problem, you've delivered the letters and you know it's an invitation to Hogwarts, but she's already started the problem of they're not going to let him go. That's what takes you into chapter 2. She does that through the entire book. So my homework is to find a book that you love that you can't put down, and look at what did the author do to put you in that position.
[Wesley] Let me add to that. Find a book that you hate, but you can't stop reading.
[Brandon] Ooooooo! There are so many of these.
[Wesley] Figure out why, even though you hate the book, you just keep turning the pages to see what's going on.
[Brandon] That's a great addition. All right, guys. You… Are out of excuses, now go write.