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Writing - Chapter Construction

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Chapter Construction

(Note: This was written in January 2008, between writing Chapters XI and XII of Volume 2)

My first look into my writing process was a confused mess. I was full of ideas, but I only had one month of experience under my belt, and my story was still in it's infancy with everything developing at once. What I wrote was more a combination of building up basic skills, world building, outlining, and chapter construction rather than focusing solely on chapter construction like the title suggested.

After one year of writing (after subtracting my four month break), let's take another look...

Step 1 - Preparation

First, I look at the volume outline. What is the PoV, Event, Purpose, and Emotion?

I've spent a lot of time building the world and creating an overall outline for the entire story (see Outline Organization). Before I write each volume I take a look at all my notes, and write an outline for the volume.

The outline consists of writing notes on what point of view it will have, what happens in that chapter, what significance it has to the volume and/or entire story, and what kind of feeling the chapter is supposed to have.

I take a look at these notes and stir it around in my head until the chapter begins to take shape.

Step 2 - Outline

After having an understanding of my volume outline... I do a chapter outline.

Once I have a clear picture of what the chapter is supposed to be about and reasons it is important, it's time to make a chapter outline.

This is done by listing bullet points and/or snippets of key conversations. Usually this comes out in the order I end up addressing them in a chapter, but if I'm not certain where a certain point or phrase is going to appear at the moment of outlining, I still write it down, and try to shuffle it around after I finish making all the bullet points so nothing gets forgotten.

Step 3 - Rough Draft

Rough is the key word here.

Completing sentences, using proper tense, colorful words, showing not telling, or anything else I may worry about when making a final draft is ignored here. This is the time to just let the words flow from my head to the screen, and to connect the dots of my outline as naturally as possible.

Even the specific beginning and ending point isn't something I'm worried about during this part of the process. And if one particular point doesn't come to me right away, or a specific word is on the tip of my tongue but I just can't think of it, I just leave a note and move on. I don't want to disrupt flow. Completing the draft is what's important.

Step 4 - Revisions

Time to fill out the chapter.

This is where it is time to completing those sentences, paragraphs, and ideas. As I do this, I try to keep in mind where the perfect place to start and end the chapter might be. This might come to me with the first revision or the fifth.

Sometimes this comes about by finding a theme that can more tightly tie the chapter together. The theme can be a key word or phrase I may want to repeat, or a play on words, or a recurring idea.

It also help to read it out loud from this point onward.

Step 5 - Take a break

Take one long enough to gain a fresh perspective.

There comes a point where back to back revisions can no longer improve the chapter. The words are too ingrained in my head, and it's time for me to take some time to gain some perspective. There has never been a single time where I've taken time away, only to come back and think the chapter was perfect.

Time away from the chapter doesn't mean time away from the story. If I still feel a need to work on the story, I can work on the next chapter, my master outline, or any number of other things.

Step 6 - Finishing touches

Clean up and trim down.

Hopefully this time away will have given me a fresh perspective into fixing any problem words, phrases, sentences, or ideas that stood out or had been bothering me. This can be a small as trying to find the perfect word to as large as adding, removing, or rearranging paragraphs.

Most of the this final revision means cutting down in the overall word count, rather than adding. Like Stephen King says in "On Writing", the rough draft minus ten percent equals the final draft. (That's not word for word, but you get the idea.) I also have to keep in mind my self-imposed word limit of 1,000 to 2,000 words per chapter. Most of the time this actually isn't something I have to worry about.

Step 7 - There's never a final draft

When I finish, it really means finish until I come back to make further tweaks.

I don't have an editor, and this would be especially helpful in removing this final step, but even though I think I'm being careful, I often have at least one or two spelling or grammatical mistakes per chapter. Sometimes I'll also change a word or two to make the chapter sound better, but not change a plot point of course. And lastly, my story is still new, and all my writing conventions haven't yet been fully established. An example would be how I originally capitalized all the spells that were used, and then decided I liked it better using lower case. It doesn't really matter either way, but I should be consistent.

Step 8: The ending document

This step doesn't actually happen at the end, and can be worked on at any point.

Keeping in mind that each chapter would be put up on the internet, I wanted to add a visual aspect to each chapter. Its use also keeps in theme with the story as it is about the magic arts and crafts the ideas, the store, and its owner Melfina.

Its obvious uniqueness from the rest of the chapter allows me to use it in various ways:

  • As a part of the chapter, using the same PoV

    Many times it is used as a fully integrated part of the chapter, and is used to finished the thoughts of the character's point of view we had been reading throughout the chapter.

  • As a part of the chapter, using a different PoV

    As a small twist on the above, it may be used as a part of the chapter to reveal the thoughts of a character in the chapter whose point of view we hadn't been looking through.

  • As a follow up micro chapter

    A third option is to use it as its own chapter, to bring up a character and plot point that may be indanger of being forgotten, or needs some small development.

  • As an extra feature to the chapter

    Option four is to use it as a bonus to the chapter to help illustrate something that was mentioned in the chapter, but has no other real significance.

  • As an extra feature to the entire story

    Finally it may be used as way to flesh out the world, and describe something that ties in thematically with the chapter, but doesn't really have much to do with it otherwise.

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