A snowy drive this morning, with the promise of worse on the drive home. Forgive me if I’m a little disconnected this morning.
Being at the note-gathering stage, on the edge of picking up the pace for the middle-third of the book, I face a mountain of challenges: an important character arc, the need to keep the spark alive, the desire to build the must-read impetus into the chapters and, inevitably, the end of the book itself (about which I have no clue as of yet.)
This is the time to remind myself of my own advice. Mountains are climbed step by step, not in huge leaps. Reducing the tasks to their individual requirements is the only way not to be intimidated into a full-stop. And it raises another topic, more related to that science of reduction than it might first seem…
What is the pace of a chapter? Any chapter? What do chapters have in common—even those that may be as different as pure character development and pure action/plot-push?
Let’s see if I can get my head around this. It’s a philosophy that, for me, presents itself only in hindsight and by instinct, not by advance deliberation, so let me try to get my brain around it….
A chapter is a theme. At the start of each, the writer asks: “What is this section about? What one thing does it teach us/show us?” Each new chapter wants to remind where it was and suggest where it might be (and this is not necessarily through some long exposition of “this is where we were when last you looked”; the suggestion can be as encapsulated as a word.) Each chapter beginning wants to promise something interesting that will be delivered by its ending. It wants to endow its characters with a new degree of emotional richness. It wants peaks and valleys. Fast and slow. Languid and exciting. It wants you to end in a place different from the place you began.
A chapter wants to compel…even if the only purpose it serves is to develop what’s already there. It stands behind the readers and pushes. It takes the reader by the hand and guides. It seduces. And teases. It body-slams. It sets small fires and big explosions. The chapter is the small sample of the drug that hooks the reader on more.
A chapter needs to make a promise early-on that the end of the chapter will begin to fulfill. Throughout the promise is found seeds of some eventual revealing, in this chapter or soon later.
The chapter is the tiny marathon within the bigger one. Which is why it’s so very important to get the pace right…and right away.