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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Why Do Some Writers Give Up After One Book?

I watched Stone Reader, the documentary about The Stones of Summer, a forgotten novel by Dow Mossman. At the heart of movie are obsessive readers wondering why some writers give up after penning one book. This is not a comprehensive list, but here are seventeen reasons:

1. Failure.

Several critics thought The Stones of Summer, in its language and story choices, was an excellent novel. Commercially, it was a flop. A graduate of the famed Iowa workshop, Mossman was considered a genius by his peers. Genius frequently goes unrecognized for a host of reasons beyond our control.

This point might not just be about the author feeling discouraged. When a publisher’s gamble on a first novel goes bust, it becomes more difficult for the debut author to get a second chance even if the writer is still willing.

2. A lack of anything more to say (AKA writer’s block).

As an agent in the film pointed out, if an author mines their childhood experiences and puts it all on the page, sometimes they find that in exorcising their demons, the creative tank empties.

Counterpoint: I forget which writer said something to the effect that by the time we graduate high school, we’ve got enough trauma to write about for the rest of our lives.

3. Fear of compounding one failure with another.

In a way, there’s less pressure on your first book. You’re just happy to be invited to the party. With the second book, you have to earn your right to stay inside while it’s raining. If the first book didn’t soar up the charts, some will already have written you off. If the second book fails, they’ll bury you.

Counterpoint: People forget (I did) that Kurt Vonnegut’s early work went out of print before Slaughterhouse-Five hit. Then he could do no wrong and Player Piano et al was back on the shelves everywhere.

4. Fear of trying to follow up a hit (and failing).

The success of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird paralyzed her. Unable to imagine that she could top her masterpiece, she didn’t publish. Much later, under complicated and suspicious circumstances, her anxiety proved justified when Go Set a Watchman was finally published to decidedly mixed reviews.

5. Life gets in the way.

Shit happens. For instance, while the pandemic got some people writing, it sent others into a creative funk. Some writers end up taking care of others so much, their literary aspirations lose energy or have to be set aside.

6. Death gets in the way.

Writers die like everyone else. (Did you know this? I looked it up, It’s true!)

Suggestion: Decide now what’s going to happen to your trunk novels and the ongoing royalties from your literary assets. Emily Dickinson did not tell her sister Lavinia to burn all her poems, only her correspondence. If you want something burnt, do it now. And clear your search history, for the love of all that’s holy.

7. The first book was a last step, not a first.

Not everybody aspires to write a series and retire to a beach in Tahiti. They just want to write one book and retire to a beach in Tahiti. Odds are against that working, but there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way. Maybe their aspirations are more modest and they just want to do one and done. Nothing wrong with that, either. A novel is supposed to be an entertaining joy, not a chore, remember?

Does everyone have a book in them? No. If they do, it’s just one book, not plural and often bad, that may take years to write.

People who write a lot might not understand that there are plenty of other things to do with our time. I know! I don’t get it, either! And yet, some people are out there camping and other such bullshit best left to our long and miserable history of hunting and foraging to survive.

8. Lack of love.

If you don’t get enough love for your first book, you’ve got less fuel to spur you on to write the next. “I loved you book! When’s the next one coming out?” That endorphin hit is writing fuel. Or, you could have this common experience:

“Did you read my novel yet?” (Hint: Authors, never ask this question.)

(Weak smile) “I haven’t got around to it yet.”

Indifference squeezes the heart.

9. Lack of hate.

People underestimate the potential of spite. Some writers begin their artistic life with the help of a cherished mentor who fosters their creativity. A few get a boost from proving their detractors wrong. Others write a book of fiction to correct a wrong in real life. I think George Orwell is an example of this. The difference is that he had enough hate and passion to keep writing long after one book.

10. Lack of focus.

Writing a book takes time and energy and is not for the impatient. If you’re not getting enough reviews, money, and attention to your first book, it’s reasonable to question whether a second book is worth the investment. Life is short when it’s going well. If not, life can be long and torturous.

11. Lack of persistence.

Similar to point #10, but this goes deeper. Some people take so long to write a book that it takes too long. Their energy wanes as their eyesight dims. What might have been a sprint has become a marathon. The world is full of sprinters. Marathoners are another breed and they built not everyone for that length of race.

A few writers insist it takes years to write a good book. Let’s tackle that horseshit right quick, shall we?:

(A) Plenty of writers who prove this bias incorrect. Look at any bookshelf and evidence abounds.
(B) Everyone has their own pace (and that pace can change). Fast writers don’t scold slow writers, but I often see slow writers making assumptions about fast writers. Stop it.
(C) Talent is great, but if it’s not married with Ass in Chair, Hands of Keyboard, you’re done.
(D) It takes very few writers years to write a book. (I’ll give you William Styron, maybe, when he wasn’t struggling with depression.) For most mortal writers, it didn’t actually take you years to write that book. The actual writing took months. The staring out the window part, the Netflix part, the goofing around part? That’s the speed bump. The non-writing part of writing is what took years.


Cool? Cool.

12. Lack of need.

A bunch of us are writers because of some hazy genetic pathology that makes us incapable of doing much else. It’s a compulsion. If you don’t have it, you can write one book, get it out of your system, and then go forth and enjoy life. Full-time work as a writer can feel always having homework that never ends. Rejoice one-hit wonders and one-hit blunders! You’re free!

13. Lack of options.

I had a previous career where I excelled at a specialty. That career is finished. I’m 57 and my arthritic hip is killing me. If I want money, I have to write or take the odd book doctoring job. I still get emails from Glassdoor suggesting I’d be a perfect fit for this company or that, but in my heart I know writing is my thing and it’s my only thing. I need to do this because I can do naught else. To quote Spider-Man, “This is my blessing. This is my curse.

14. Writing and publishing weren’t what the author expected.

When I moved to Toronto to work in publishing, I had romantic ideas of what that environment entailed. I pictured fun book launches and cocktail parties full of interesting and witty people trading bon mots. When I look back on that time, I don’t remember a lot of witticisms. I remember a few rude bookstore owners, the silly office politics, the dummies, the people who cheated me, and the mean and bitter publisher who I am very glad to report is dead.

Lots of us dive in thinking the water is warm and deep. Instead, sometimes we find it’s cold, shallow, and really no different from any other profession or industry.

15. The fools thought writing meant easy money.

You’ve published your first book. Bills are coming in, royalty checks aren’t. WTF? I will not expand on this point because every writer knows the dread of opening a credit card bill no matter where they fall on the slip ‘n slide of success. (No, it’s not a ladder. Ladders are more stable.)

16. They thought the world wouldn’t care.

You’ve written a book that mines your past and battles your demons. You’ve disguised your real-life enemies and slew them in clever ways. The real-life villains have no idea you’ve skewered them with pitchforks and rusty salad spoons, but your mom is convinced it’s all about her. There’s screaming at the next family gathering and the emotional toll is too high. Mom and Dad dreamed you’d be a cardio-thoracic surgeon, for God’s sake! “And there you sit, trying to sell your little stories?”

Lesson learned: Write your serial killer porn under a pseudonym or don’t write again because it’s not worth getting cut out of the will.

17. Lack of support.

We’re often told that there has never been a better time to be a writer. In many ways, that’s true. However, it’s still a privilege. The barrier to entry is low, there’s no inventory, and no gatekeepers anymore, but the cost is not nothing. You need time. You need at least some money to buy groceries while you write. You need to live indoors while you peck away at the keyboard.

It is often said that we all have the same 24 hours in a day. I used to buy that, but it’s not true. If you’ve got young kids, you know that’s not so. We don’t all have the same amount of energy and resources to engage with those 24 hours. Through my nights of insomnia, I know the next day will not be a productive one.

Consider that most writers are also independent publishers now. Editing costs. Graphic artists cost. Web pages cost. Advertising and marketing costs. Yes, there are some workarounds to your outsourcing woes, but if you’re not spending more money, you’re burning more time and dealing with more stress.

Given all this, it’s little wonder a lot of writers end up stopping after one book.

In Dow Mossman’s case, he said that after the lack of commercial success of The Stones of Summer, he became introverted. Putting yourself out there does require some hubris, even if you’re not an extrovert. I get it. After the documentary came out in 2002 and fresh attention was paid, The Stones of Summer got a second life and was reprinted. Dow Mossman has not written another novel.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute. I write killer crime thrillers with muscle and apocalyptic epics with heart. See links to all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

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Can you see the nurse’s face?

I need to talk about a moment from Spider-Man: No Way Home and how it relates to great writing. I don’t want to spoil the moment for anyone, so I’ll be sufficiently vague. First, it’s a really fun movie guaranteed to satisfy Spider-Man fans of all ages. It’s playful with the franchise. You know to expect plenty of heroic feats, swinging by a thread and thwip, thwip, etc.,…

For action and fun, the movie satisfies, but this post is about heart.

You know what a parking lot movie is, right? It’s a movie that’s bubblegum for the eyes, but by the time you exit the theater and open your car door, you’ve basically forgotten it. (Just about any Steven Seagal movie is a parking lot movie. Besides Under Siege, they all run together.)

The example of great writing I’m focused on is away from No Way Home‘s big action set pieces. It’s a quiet moment of heroism and integrity at the very end of the film. Peter Parker makes a deep sacrifice to protect those he loves. He sees a bandaid and makes a gut-wrenching decision. It’s a touching scene, the kind that you remember long after all the rampant CGI fades from your memory. (If you’ve seen the movie, you know there’s a tearful moment in which MJ is saved that will stick with you a long time, too.)

In Spider-Man 2, when Tobey Maguire’s Spidey battles Doc Ock on a train, there’s a moment in which New Yorkers band together to care for and protect Spider-Man instead of the other way around. That scene still brings me to tears and I’ll tell you why: The last two years have demonstrated that not everyone is interested in doing anything for others. Showing off the best of humanity through fiction is inspiring stuff. Entertainment requires conflict and great villains make for great stories. Beyond the expected there are opportunities to do more with your words. Take those chances to be trenchant and affect your reader deeply.

Making memorable fiction is about finding those unexpected moments that make readers feel something in the center of their chests. I’m talking about those moments that bring tears to eyes, the kind of word magic that puts pictures in your audience’s heads and makes them stop and think, too. You want them thinking about the story long after they close your book.

Please give us more of those smaller, poignant moments in genre fiction.

Spider-Man is one of my favorite heroes from the comics, mostly because of the humorous dialogue and how humble his origin story is. Sure, he’s a genius science nerd with amazing strength, but he’s also got a tyrannical boss in J. Jonah Jameson. Peter is constantly broke while risking his life every night. (Me? I’d be constantly terrified of running out of web fluid sixty stories above the pavement.) Peter Parker’s vulnerability and human choices make him interesting and relatable.

There are plenty of examples of ordinary people acting in extraordinary ways.

The nice old man in the hospital bed was talking about picking tomatoes from his garden a moment ago. He was looking forward to seeing his new grandchild. Now his heart has stopped. Picture the anxious look on a nurse’s face the second before she has to punch the button to call a Code Blue. Caring and capable, her pulse accelerates. What happens in the next few minutes matters.

Picture the determined look on another nurse’s face as the team bursts into the patient’s room with a crash cart. She doesn’t want to see another dead body today. She’s exhausted from a too-long shift, but the burst of adrenaline chases away her fatigue, at least for the moment. Her jaw is set in defiance of Death.

See the doctor. She looks self-assured, but she doubts herself and will do anything to avoid delivering bad news to another grieving widow.

Honor the diligent daughter backing away from their dad’s hospital bed in horror and disbelief. She’s struggling to hide her fear. And what will she tell her mom?

Some hold a bias against genre fiction.

They think it’s big on the boom but deeper characterization is reserved for high literature. Bullshit. We can give them action and deliver on heart, too.

They did it a comic book. They did it in a comic book movie. You can do it in your novels.

~ For deep characterization and heart paired with action, read Endemic. Ovid Fairweather is a bullied nerd stuck in a collapsed New York City. Alone except for the voices in her head, she will become Queen of the Viral Apocalypse.

Check out all my books at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

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Writing Fairweather and Foul

I recently received the most aggressive fortune in a fortune cookie ever: For a good cause, wrongdoing may be virtuous (pictured). Sums up a lot of fiction, doesn’t it? It spoke to a central question in my newest big book, though! (See below. Oh, and by the way, Endemic is FREE today, Tuesday, November 2, 2021!)

How good does the cause have to be? How bad can I be?

Papa, Don’t Preach

In fiction, themes and messages are best when they emerge from the narrative organically. If a writer sets out to create a message from the beginning, it might turn into a lecture rather than a story. Readers want to be entertained. Don’t write fiction to teach them something. Set out to discover something.

Why Endemic?

Someone asked me why my latest novel is called Endemic. There are layers;

  1. Of course, when a pandemic doesn’t go away, the disease becomes endemic. That’s the broad stroke of world-building and the basis of my novel.
  2. Ovid Fairweather, the protagonist of Endemic, is neurotic and nerdy. A former book editor, she gets into urban farming to survive the viral apocalypse. She’s a very unlikely heroine who has conversations with her dead psychotherapist. To defend herself, she commits violent acts. A conflicted soul, she wonders if her capacity to do the things she does was dormant, waiting to emerge her entire life. Was her violent nature endemic? Was it learned? Or was it merely a reaction to terrible circumstances?
  3. So, was Anne Frank right? Are people basically good? And if they aren’t, can they be redeemed? What actions are required to achieve redemption? Who dictates which transgressors can be forgiven? What punishments await sinners? If a trait is endemic, can we change?

Disaster stories and horror are most interesting, not for the disaster itself, but how people react to circumstance. Can we come together or will it always be “every man for himself”? Human nature is fascinating. That’s the exploration boiling underneath all the plot, witty dialogue, and action.

Going Deeper than Good or Bad

There’s a common mistake anyone can fall into. It’s the notion that everyone is either all good or all bad. If they agree with you, they’re geniuses. If they mostly agree, but don’t use your phrasing, they’re idiots you need to educate. Cultural divides don’t get bridged that way.

In real life, people often have a hard time with others. When we find out heroes who champion our cause are flawed, we’re sorely disappointed. There are still plenty of people who don’t want to hear that Mother Teresa was for suffering or that their favorite Hollywood star treats the help horribly.

In fiction, we try to avoid portraying protagonists as flawless. Flawless is boring, so readers appreciate characters who are not paragons of virtue 24/7/365. Common tropes support the detective who has seen too much, so she drinks too much. The serial killer may be evil, but as long as Dexter likes kids and kills serial killers, we’re rooting for him to get away with his crimes.

When you write your novel, you want your characters to be relatable. Readers want someone to like. Avoid writing characters who are so perfect no one can dislike them. That character may be likable, but the story will have less conflict and end up being boring.

Ovid Fairweather is perhaps my most conflicted character yet. The past haunts her. She isn’t sure whether she’s the heroine or the villain. I’m confident most readers will root for her even as she waffles and worries. She is quirky and neurotic so Ovid has a lot of challenges to rise above, just like the rest of us.

Find out for yourself here

I was a nail. I am a hammer.

As the United States falls to disease, killers and thieves rule New York. Bookish, neurotic, and nerdy, Ovid Fairweather finds herself trapped in the struggle for survival. 

Bullied by her father, haunted by her dead therapist, and hunted by marauders, Ovid is forced to fight.

With only the voices in her head as her guides, an unlikely heroine will become a queen.

Fun, surprising, and suspenseful, Endemic is the new apocalyptic novel from the author of Citizen Second Class, This Plague of Days, and AFTER Life.

BEGIN YOUR NEXT BINGE READ

and

DO YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING HERE.

~ For all my apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers, please do visit my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

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Help for the Anxious Writer

If your book idea feels thin at first, consider that Ice Road Truckers barreled on for 11 seasons and found an audience. If you’ve got a grand idea for a novel, but it’s not springing onto the page fully formed, I have some suggestions. If you’re unsure of yourself as a writer, I’ve got ideas about that, too.

When you lack confidence:

  • You don’t have to stop where you are today.
  • If you write more than one book, each level of success will vary. Think in terms of moving forward instead of dwelling on failures.
  • Go deeper into characters’ back stories to find the way forward.
  • Elucidate motivations and deny what each character wants. When desires conflict, you’ve got drama.
  • Do you have the basics? Who, what, where, why, when and how.
  • Play to your experience and strengths, but it’s not necessary to write what you know. Write what you care about.
  • Go deeper on specifics without beating the reader over the head with your deepest research.
  • Get the details right. For many readers, procedurals and process are porn.
  • Set the scene to give the reader a sense of time and place. Don’t forget the smells and feels, the sense and impact of the location, but don’t go too hard on the weather report.
  • Find the next step in your plot by finding a logical move, but don’t succumb to the first easy answer that springs to mind.
  • Discover the logical surprise twist. Defy the reader’s comfort in thinking they know how the story will unfold.
  • Smooth out the bumps later so it looks like you planned the entire narrative from beginning to end.
  • Too much editing as you go will impede progress. You’ll have a sharp Chapter One with no Chapter 2.
  • Make your characters distinctive. Giving one twin a porkpie hat he adjusts and readjusts for 200 pages isn’t special enough.
  • If two characters sound alike and perform the same function in the story, they might as well be one person.
  • Put the manuscript aside and give it more thought so you look like a genius later.
  • Put it aside and don’t think about it. The answer often appears when you come back to it fresh.
  • Don’t put a manuscript aside for too long.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed or too precious about storytelling. Plenty of half-drunk half-idiots sitting around campfires have told entertaining yarns for thousands of years.
  • Focus on the A to B to C in the first and second draft. Action flows from character and is character.
  • Themes will emerge later. Don’t set out to write a theme. A manifesto has no plot.
  • Entertainment is Goal #1. Don’t set out to educate with a novel. That souffle will fall flat.
  • Your main character needs a fatal flaw or they’ll be boring. Too perfect is boring and inhuman.
  • Your protagonist needs more obstacles in their way. Heroes and heroines have to be smoked in the oven a long time before they’re done.
  • Your villain needs the complexity of nuance and a purpose they believe is noble. No one thinks they’re the villain.
  • No character should feel like a red shirt, easily sacrificed. Henchman #3 has a family and feelings, dammit!
  • Don’t allow a smart person to do a dumb thing just to make a plot work. That’s the sound of gears grinding in a rusty machine.
  • Avoid a story with one tone, particularly if it’s one grim tone.
  • Heroics and horror both have room for humor when the wit is well-placed (but if you aren’t funny, don’t force it).
  • Fight scenes and sex scenes are similar: they both need to acknowledge the breath, heat, emotion and effort involved.
  • Read more in the genre to make sure you’re hitting the tropes without surrendering to cliche.
  • Drop the boring parts and concede that not every idea is worthy of a novel. Your idea for a full-length novel might make a better novella or short story.
  • Make your characters more relatable but don’t succumb to the critic who says, “People don’t act like that.” This character, your character, acts like that.
  • Decide your protagonist is unchanging and the series is episodic (e.g. Sherlock Holmes) or decide on a story arc that allows for character growth. Ignore reviewers who demand your character be fully actualized immediately. They don’t have the patience to understand what you’re doing with that character in the next book.
  • Dare to write a bold plot point, but too many coincidences are death.
  • Disguise your deceptions until the big reveals strike.
  • Contextualize the fantastic with normality to enhance the suspension of disbelief.
  • Read your manuscript like a reader, not like a writer.
  • Pick your allies carefully. Writers are much harder to please than casual readers and their motivations are sometimes suspect. (Hint: most readers are of the casual variety looking for distraction and escape, not an argument over comma placement.)
  • Let go of what isn’t working. Harvest wheat, cut chaff.
  • Go deep to create an immersive page turner. Make a movie in their heads.
  • Find an editor you trust who is out to help you, not tear you down. Some editors get into this biz for the wrong reasons.
  • The right length is the word count that gets to the end of the story.
  • Rely on feedback from your real readers, not randos.
  • Rewrite to make the reading experience richer.
  • Revise for clarity.
  • Edit to get where you’re going at the right speed, avoiding detours, potholes and plot holes along the route.
  • Drop the ten-dollar words but don’t talk down to your audience.
  • Do not overwrite character descriptions. You’ll interfere with the movie in their heads.
  • Have fun. If you’re having fun, readers probably will, too.
  • Are you getting up from the desk often enough? Moving? Getting some air and enough sleep? Feed the body, energize the brain, charge up Ole Ink Hill.
  • The only reason you dislike your manuscript might be that you’ve reread and rewritten it too many times. Your personal draft limit will vary. Send it to your editor when you hit the wall.
  • Cute can work. Too twee? Less so. So much depends on what you’re writing. Consider the variables. Listen to your heart when you write. Listen to your brain when you revise. Listen to your editor before you publish.
  • These are broad guidelines. Sometimes it is better to tell rather than show. If it plays, it plays.
  • Some write like they talk. When done well, it will sound natural.
  • Some try to write as if they’re 17th Century British nobles.
  • Let the words come from you. With revisions, You the Writer will come across smoother than You the Person with Cookie Crumbs Down Your Shirt.
  • Stop being so precious about writing. This is art, not a procrastination project. You want it to be excellent, not perfect.
  • Lives do not hang in the balance, not even your life.
  • Finish.
  • Edit.
  • Proof.
  • Publish.
  • Some will love you no matter what you do. Some will hate you no matter what. Most don’t give a shit. Let go of demanding that your family care about your high calling. Stop caring about anyone outside your target audience. What does your brother know, anyway? He’s obsessed with golf and foot fetish porn.
  • Don’t depend on one book to make you famous.
  • Write another book.
  • Somebody’s going to hurt your feelings. Nobody hits a home run every time and not everyone’s opinion gets equal weight. Look for support in the right places.
  • You’re not writing a novel. That can feel overwhelming and possibly a terrible waste of time. Instead, you’re writing a little short story each day (or most days of the week, anyway). Each short story just happens to connect to the next short story. These stories are your chapters. Writer 45 to 55 or so, and behold! A book! See? Easier than it sounded at first!
  • Relax. Enjoy telling your stories. Focus on process now, not outcome.
  • With enough at-bats, you have a better shot at hitting home runs.
  • Don’t talk about writing more than you write.
  • Don’t give up unless you hate writing.
  • If you hate writing, there are plenty of other things to do that probably pay more.
  • If you love writing, there’s not much else to do.

    *If you prefer outlining, there’s nothing wrong with that and you might end up writing faster with fewer hiccups and less anxiety. Your mileage may vary and that’s a blog post for another time.

    ~ If you enjoy apocalyptic epics or killer crime thrillers, I’m your guy. Find all the books by Robert Chazz Chute at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

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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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

http://mybook.to/OurZombieHours
A NEW ZOMBIE ANTHOLOGY

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.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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