C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

How to End a Chapter: Shorter chapters, better books?

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

I wrote at length recently about how smart it is to write short. (Wow, that got meta-ironic fast.) I was talking about the length of books, the allure of serialization and the benefits to both writers and readers. Today, I’m talking about chapters.

I’m currently revising the book I wrote while wearing my big-boy underpants. This Plague of Days took a little under a year to write back when I wrote part-time. Every day, I’d go to a coffee shop to get away from distractions. I got sucked into the point of view of a boy with Aspergers Syndrome during the coming plague apocalypse. His family hides out in suburbia while much of the world dies. The longer the book goes on, day by day, things get worse around his Christlike figure. When I wrote it, I wasn’t concerned about chapter length. I’d sketched an outline packed with beats and I put my head down and plunged into the story.

As I revise This Plague of Days now, I see how I was writing to the beats and each file folder was a chapter. Each writing session often yielded more than 5,000 words, all in one file/chapter! I’m breaking that up, obviously. As I look for logical places to split the file into more chapters, the logical spots are easy to find. I go out on a beat.

It’s a principle of podcasting, stand-up comedy and entertainment generally that you go out on a high note. Cliffhangers, twists, teasers and aha moments belong at the end of the chapter to seduce readers to turn the page and go for the next chapter. The more of those special moments, peaks or beats you have, the faster the pace of the book. Make the chapters short and those peaks are closer together. More beats close together equals momentum.

Don’t overdo.

If you don’t slow down to develop character, a hundred awful, exciting things may happen but no one will care. Here’s an ugly example of a pace that’s too fast:

Emma’s fiance, Rollo, dies in a skywriting accident when he tries to put the dot under the question mark as he pens “Emma! Will you marry me?” in the sky and ends up flying too low into the meat grinder of nearby chicken factory. Grief-stricken, Emma attends the funeral where Rollo’s mother tries to kill her in a rage. Terrified, Emma escapes to Italy where she falls in love with sculpture and decides to rebuild her life around art. Then, Phillipe, a very handsome and wealthy art connoisseur takes her under his wing, but how does he know Rollo’s mother and is he, in fact, an assassin assigned to murder her after their first night of passion? THEN, ON THE SECOND PAGE…

More spikes aren’t better if the characters are undeveloped. Readers don’t care for whiplash. However, you could take a page from Mary Higgins Clark. Her short chapters skip along. The closer the reader gets to the climax, the shorter the chapters become. This heightens the sense of forward momentum and keeps my wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, awake much past her optimal bedtime as she powers toward the end of those thrillers.

We have a strange attachment to symmetry, don’t we though? Maybe that’s why more authors do not vary the length of their chapters. I’ve even heard of one author taking perverse pride in hitting an arbitrary word count so each chapter was the same length. That sort of peculiarity may serve someone’s OCD, but your OCD is supposed to serve the story above all else. (He must have been crushed when it came back from the editor with varying word counts.)

 

Don’t under do

If all the chapters are too short, it can feel to the reader that the author was skimping. For instance, while I generally admire James Sallis’s neo-noir novel Driven, some later chapters are so short and light on detail that I felt like I was missing something. He was painting a great picture overall, but here and there he didn’t have enough paint on his brush. I had to check to make sure I hadn’t skipped pages. Don’t make readers dizzy and fill them with self-doubt.

In a book of short stories, you can get away with stories so brief they could be non-rhyming poems. I have a few short chapters in Self-help for Stoners but I don’t worry about it because I’m not fragmenting a larger narrative with a short jolt. Or you can ape Faulkner and write, “My mother is a fish” and leave it at that, I suppose, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Find the right length

You can delight readers with shorter books and shorter chapters as long as they aren’t confused. For instance, a lot of short chapters with multiple points of view can confuse the casual reader. They might accuse you of head-hopping. It wouldn’t technically be true, but that’s how your narrative might feel to them. Stephen King’s It and The Stand manage large casts, but the chapters are longer. Just about the time you’re thinking, Enough of him, what’s happening with so-and-so, you’re switching to another character’s plight.

A warning and a hope

You’ll find the break points for chapters easily and intuitively if you have enough beats. If you don’t have enough beats, you may be writing something of great literary value but it’s probably too slow to be of commercial value. And by slow, yes, I mean boring. Not every story has to drive forward with breakneck speed or maintain an even pace throughout. However, if the way stations of chapter breaks are too far apart, you aren’t giving your readers confidence that they are moving toward a destination. That’s the death of a lot of books. Give us action, engagement, obstacles, reversals, rising action, higher stakes and make us care.

If a comedy like The Big Bang Theory can make me cry over a single line uttered about a letter from Howard Wolowitz’s absent father (it did), you can make us care about your characters. Do it at a good speed.

~ I mentioned how I’d write about marketing in my next post. This is the next post so it turns out I lied. However, I’ll try to get back to that in my next post. I’m experimenting with building buzz about upcoming books with inexpensive strategies. I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. Or I’ll write about unreliable narrators. There’s that pesky meta-irony again. 

Here’s a marketing hint to tide you over:

I’m promoting two books by reading one on Vine. I’m doing it with a contest. Check out the details on that contest at AllThatChazz.com.

Have a peek at ThisPlagueofDays.com for some flavor of what’s to come.

Filed under: Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I screwed up. I’m going to need a bigger boat.

I screwed up

I had a publishing schedule and a plan. I committed to ship books on time. As Seth Godin says, “Artists ship.” This is business, so make a good plan and Cool+People+Podcast+Finalstick to it. But what if the plan sucks?

Time to adapt

Adaptation is what a small company can do that a big company often can’t. Big companies have committees and hierarchies and approval processes. I’ve got me and a couple of freelancers and an ad hoc committee of friends and allies I bounce ideas back and forth with. All the decisions, blame and reward go to me. It’s time to take blame and make new plans.

The Excuses Not to Ship

Six+Seconds+copyI had stalled out on writing fiction for a couple of weeks because of time management issues and sickness: My daughter got sick; I started a new podcast; I wrote a book about Vine. All those things were necessary to deal with and I have no regrets. I’m rather fond of the sick kid, so there’s that. I’m excited about adding another podcast (the Cool People Podcast!) to my tiny empire. Six Seconds, The Unauthorized Guide to How to Build Your Business with the Vine App, was a fun exercise that could actually help people get more attention to their brands with a new social media tool. Diversifying helped my other books’ sales, too. As diversions go from the main war plan, these are pretty good ones. However…

The Reasons to Adapt

My production plan was off target because I need to launch a new series to get more attention to my other books. I try not to think too much about all that I have planned for this year. If I try to grok it all at once, my cerebellum pounds my brain pan until I lie down clutching an Advil bottle.

The core issue is the crime fiction I write is hardboiled, but funny. That’s a tough nut to crack. Many would call sardonic neo-noir Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindlea forgotten niche. The reviews of the Hit Man Series (Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus) are great, but I realized I had to diversify to get the whole line of books more attention.

Self-help for Stoners, for instance, sells the best consistently, but it’s also been around longest and by some people’s lights, it’s experimental fiction, too (or at least weird and maybe challenging). The Hit Man Series would be considered experimental by some. I don’t agree. In fact, I think that’s a bit silly, but who cares what I think when I have numbers to evaluate? I have to diversify to get the tide to raise all the boats.

The Original Plan

I was going to write the third book in the Hit Man Series, Hollywood Jesus, next. I’m already more than halfway through it and I love that character and his story. The book after Hollywood Jesus will be a real twist, too. I’m going to revisit characters from the original book. My pitiable assassin, Jesus Diaz, will share the book with…ahem…no spoilers yet…but the twist will make that series achieve lift off in a huge way, I’m sure. I can hardly wait. However, in publishing Six Seconds, I’ve seen how one book can help other books in surprising ways. By giving new readers a surprising book that delivers in a more conventional way in a comfortable genre, I’ll open them up to trying my other brands of inspired lunacy.

The New Plan

Higher than Jesus Final NEW copyI have a post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age plague thriller that’s already written. It took me a year to write. I’m revising it now. It’s 125,000 words and ripe for serialization. This book has some strange elements to it since much of the action is seen through the eyes of a boy with Aspergers. I’m going to publish the Aspergers/plague book next, instead of Hollywood Jesus. Though the subject matter can be strange and wonderful and scary and terrible, it’s an adventure story told in third person, limited omniscient. In other words, it won’t scare anyone off because it feels “experimental”. Strange at times, sure, but it’s ultimately about a family and family relationships strained by a crisis. In the Hit Man Series, there’s a lot created to make you laugh. In this series, you’ll take me seriously.

I will deliver the plague thriller in two months. Anybody who wrote me off as too weird for them just because I write stuff that challenges preconceptions of how stories should be told? Buckle up. I’m coming for you and I won’t even have to shanghai and coerce you up the plank to my party cruise. You’re going to want to be a passenger on my pleasure boat. I’m making it bigger, just for you.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

Game on.

~ Chazz’s author site is AllThatChazz.com where you can find out more about his books or check out his rants and author readings on the All That Chazz Podcast. His new website is CoolPeoplePodcast.com. The first episode features horror author Armand Rosamilia in conversation about zombies, The Walking Dead and writing more books, faster (among other things.) Check it out. 

Filed under: book marketing, Books, ebooks, podcasts, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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