Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chapter Breaks--writing tip

Patriot Acts -e
by Steven Clark Bradley

Today, America faces enemies that make the world of the Cold War seem like much brighter times. Islamic forces have declared Jihad on America causing the greatest threat to the life of the United States since World War II. In Patriot Acts, America finds itself under covert nuclear attack from the Islamic Republic of Iran which has linked up with radical American Militia groups. They have set aside their political and religious differences to carry out the widest attack to America in the nation 's history. 
Question from the e-mail: How do you know when the end of a chapter comes?  People keep telling me mine are too long. Along with, "That's too far-fetched!" That's the one that comes up most often. But if I make every scene it's own chapter some of them would only be three sentences long.
Answer:  Well making each scene a chapter works for some authors, like the one above, but it does tend to make books expensive to print, because of all the white space. A good story is always worth the paper though, as is the case above...
You asked for my own method, so here it is.  I never divide my book into chapters until after it is finished! I don't worry about whether I need a cliffhanger for the end of a scene, because it comes at the end of a chapter. I put cliffhangers, or at least a question/hook, at the end of every scene.
I just write the story, one scene after another,  all in one big file. This makes it easy if I want to rearrange the scenes, or have something happen earlier, or later, than the time I thought to write the scene. Admittedly, I am not a linear thinker.
I also never pad the story to make it a certain length and I don’t advise you to do that either. Write the story one scene at a time. Then go on to the next and the next and so on, always following the action.  I don't outline, so this is the only way I can do it.
Some scenes will be only a few paragraphs. Some will be several pages long. Mine average about five pages. Though they can be less than one and up to nine. If a scene runs more than nine pages, I know I’ve lost track of something and begin it with a string of ????? to let me know that the scene will need work.  BUT I never stop and do the work, THEN! I go RIGHT ON with the next scene.  By the time I have finished the book, I will know always what to do there. If not, I just delete it and make it's point in another scene.
Once the story is finished, I go back and put chapter headings in at scene breaks, blocking out between 15 and 20 pages at a time. 
If I want a three chapter sample, I can go and do that at the beginning of the book and copy those pages into a separate file called sample, and so on. But I really don’t like to break the story up until it is pretty well finished. 
The reason is that quite often I find I need to insert scenes in places I had not anticipated. For instance: in The Ghost Dancer, I had no plans for Elaine to come west. She was only to be mentioned as a reason for Christy’s leaving home. I mentioned that Christy had a sister named Ellen, who was  partly the reason she had decided to go west and thought I was through with HER.
Then I wrote a scene and Elaine walked in, saying, “I’ve had a perfectly miserable trip!” I erased that, but she kept coming back! So then I had to go back and write in a brief scene where Ellen found out a secret and left home, and another equally brief scene to show the perfectly miserable trip, and so when she showed up on the train, the reader was ready for her – and not as shocked as I was when she walked into that private railroad car.
Turns out that my subconscious knew I'd need to use Ellen later in the story, as a foil, and have her do all the stuff that would have made Christy look like a nitwit. Tenderfoot Ellen, not heroine Christy gets kidnapped, etc.

And as for the story mentioned at the top of this page. It takes place in an alternate reality. It is both a thriller and a fantasy. A cautionary tale of something that hasn't happened -- yet. It doesn't have to be real, OR true. It only has to be good!


  1. I'm pretty well convinced that I live in an alternate reality. Or maybe a parallel world.

  2. Me, too. But Edna did as what I did, not what we are supposed to do.