This is something that I’ve put a lot of thought into in the second draft of my novel. This draft was mainly about fixing a lot of the problems and plot holes that I could find in the story, and figuring out how to tell it more effectively. I was originally going to focus on developing my characters more and elaborating on the ideas and pictures I originally wrote about. But I realized that in order to do that, I have to be sure about the way I’m telling the story and the foundation of the story itself.
So today we’re going to talk about chapters. Chapters and parts and the order in which you tell your story. I’ve talked about this a few times throughout my blog, but I think it deserves its own post.
The way stories are divided up may vary. You can have short chapters or long ones. You can tell it through different perspectives so that the reader might know more than the characters. You can tell it through first, second, or third person perspective, with variations within those categories, of course. You can alternate between these choices. You can come up with a unique way to tell the story.
These are all things that we typically come up with before we start writing, but we can always go back and change it with a lot of rewriting. If you finish your draft, and look back to realize that you could have developed your character way better if you wrote in first person, or developed the world better through third person, don’t ignore that. If you truly love this story, if you really think that it would be way better if you wrote it differently, then do just that.
We are writers. Our job is to write these stories in the best way possible. If you don’t think you did that, then maybe experiment with other ways of telling the story.
Even if it takes a while. Even if it takes another couple of drafts. Don’t just try to cover it up with extra description or more plot points. Don’t work around the problem instead of fixing it. I tried that with my first novel (unpublished for a reason) and it didn’t turn out well. I’m keeping that story in my back pocket, though, so I can rework it and fix those problems, and keep perusing that story one day.
I know that it means that you are going to do a lot more work, and that by the end you will be sick of your story, but it is worth it. I mean, this is your story. How could it not be worth it?
In my current story, Holding My Breath, I was going for a parallel structure. Half of the story is told in flashbacks, and the other half are taking place in the present day. There are certain parts of each side that kind of line up, since they are really similar. At first I wanted to do that, to show how my characters are kind of repeating the past. I don’t know if that really makes sense, so I guess I’ll give an example.
In the story, there are two car crashes. And no, neither of them were accidents. So when I wrote the story, I was alternating between present day and flashbacks. I wrote the stories at certain paces so that both car crashes would happen at the same point in the book, and so all of these other little things line up too.
Now that I’m looking back, I see that there is a better way to tell this story. I realized that it made more sense for one of the crashes to happen later in the book, because it would mean something different to the reader, but if I did that, then the stories wouldn’t line up. But I gave it a shot, just to see what I would come up with.
I kind of ended up rearranging my whole book…
This is kind of how I originally plotted out my chapters: I got sticky notes and cut them up, writing down what happens in each chapter on each one. Then I started arranging the flashbacks and present chapters on a poster board. By the time I was done writing my first draft, I had ended straying really far from the original story, and did the same thing, but this time rearranging the chapters that I already wrote. I found a way to line everything up in a way that complimented each story, while still keeping the overall story the same.
And I like this version way better. Lining up your novel might be great for some stories, but it wasn’t how my story needed to be told. Maybe you think you should reveal something about your character later in your story. Maybe you want to make your character evolve at a different pace than the original draft shows. Go back and change it! If you don’t like the new version, don’t worry. You can always click that undo button.
I advise making a copy of your document each time you go in to change something major, or start a new draft. Never delete anything, even after you are done with your final draft. Believe me, you might want to go back and find that deleted scene or chapter. It could be for inspiration, or even to spark a whole other story. But don’t delete it.
I actually found the original first chapter that I wrote for my first book a few days ago. I started writing the story in a red notebook and then typed it up, but I decided to delete this first chapter and replace it before I had it in the computer. Let me tell you, I have been looking for this for years. I ended up taking the pages out of that notebook as I typed them up, but couldn’t remember where I had put them when I was done. I was looking through my old drafts, and sure enough, there they were, in the binder I had used to plan out the trilogy.
I’ve gotten so much better with my writing since then, but reading it again brought me back to the original story. To the day when I literally just sat down and said to myself, “I’m going to write a book.” And then I did.
Oh, the days.
Anyway, my challenge for you is to look back over your story and see if there is anything about your story that you think could be told better, or in a different way. Even if it is something as simple as the way you are titling your chapters. Maybe it’s the point at which you decided to separate your story into parts. Or even just how you tell the story through your character’s eyes. Look at your story and ask yourself these questions:
Did I choose the right character(s) to tell the story? Is this plot point most effective at this part of the story? Is there a purpose to every character in this book? Is there a purpose to every plot point in this book? Is there anything in the story that doesn’t push the story forward, and should that be there? Should this story be told through longer/shorter chapters? Are the developments of my characters too slow/fast? Is the amount of time passing throughout the story realistic? Would this story be better told in first/second/third person perspective?
If you don’t like your answer to any of these questions, fix it. If you don’t like something about your story, change it. And these aren’t the only questions that you should ask yourself. There are tons and tons more. Maybe I’ll write a post about that…
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!