Chapters: How Do I Write One?

Last week we talked about why I think chapters are important to a longer work. While any and all of those reasons are valid, knowing that you should have chapters is an entirely different animal than actually writing them. Today I’m going to give you my top tips for creating engaging and meaningful chapters.

  1. Decide what part of the story this chapter is going to develop: Chapters are essentially clusters of scenes from your manuscript that have been grouped together because they serve a certain purpose within the narrative. For example: The first chapter of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (PJ) can essentially be broken up into a few main scenes (Minor SPOILERS Ahead):
    1. A sarcastic intro to Percy and some background info about some of the other  characters that come into play in the chapter.
    2. Percy and Grover are bullied on a field trip to a museum. Percy wants to do something to defend himself and his friend, but can’t because he’s on “probation” from getting in trouble earlier in the year.
    3. Percy studies the Greek statues in the museum and a teacher asks why the facts are important to real life. Percy doesn’t know the answer.
    4. At lunch, the bullying continues. Percy snaps and wants to get back at the perpetrator. His magic acts up for the first time.

Now, that isn’t a complete outline of the first chapter, but from a few bullet points, I think it’s pretty clear that the author’s objective here is to introduce readers to the main character and start hinting toward the main conflict. In other words, it’s meant to drive both character development and plot development simultaneously. This balance is what most chapters should do, but obviously there are going to be some chapters that are heavier in one area then the other. Deciding with this chapter is meant to accomplish is the key to determining what’s going to happen in it.

  1. Decide what scenes are going to best illustrate your goal for the chapter: Currently my chapters contain one to three scenes each. I like to think of each chapter almost as a separate short story. It has rising actions, a climax, and falling actions or cliff hangers that launch the reader into the next chapter. If you’ve used either the Hero’s Journey Outline or the 3 Act 9 Block Structure, those steps should be a good springboard to get you started. Pantsers should not discount this method either, as it can be helpful if you get stuck.

Using the PJ example again, the basic structure of the chapter might look like this (Again SPOILERS):

Chapter 1:

Goal: Introduce the MC and hint at Percy being a demigod.

Rising Action: Background information and minor character bullying Percy and Grover.

Climax: Percy soaks the bully with water from a fountain, unknowingly using his power for the first time.

Falling Actions: The display of powers causes him to be attacked by a Greek monster, which he disintegrates. Afterwards, he notices one of the teachers has disappeared, but when he tries to ask where she went, everyone seems to have forgotten she existed.

With the previous example, we took the chapter and analyzed the plot points that best demonstrated the goal. Here, those points are still relevant, but now they not only communicate an objective, but are their own compelling arc within the narrative.

Challenge of the Week: How do you structure your chapters?

Chapters: Why Are They Important?

There are many components to writing a book, but few as daunting for over-writers like me as figuring out how in the world to divide your book up into chapters- either once it’s written, or during the drafting process. This post and next week’s are inspired by author Kim Chance’s recent video.

“But, Claerie,” you’re thinking, “you just added another monkey wrench to this already impossible process! Do you really think I need something else to worry about?” Right?

As if coming up with, writing, and editing a novel isn’t complicated enough, unless you’re writing a short story, you’ll likely want to slice and dice that monstrous, glorious manuscript of yours. Why? Well, a few reasons:

  1. Focus: I talked about this a little bit before in my post about staying focused when writing, but I go into writing a large project by taking it apart in small chunks. Each chapter is like a puzzle piece, and when they all come together, the picture is complete. There is no set word/page limit on chapters, but mine are usually between 3k-5k long and span over one or two important events in the story. Thinking of each chapter as a piece of the overall picture helps me to concentrate on only a few plot points at a time, making them shine as much as I can. It also helps me feel more easily accomplished because instead of thinking, “I’ve only written 13k of a 75k story,” I think, “Yay, I’ve finished four chapters-now let’s make it five.”
  2. Point of View Change: If you have a book with multiple plot points happening to different characters at the same time, or you have a book where the point of view alternates, chapters are a good way to alert the readers to those kinds of changes without confusing them. It can also help avoid “head hopping” between the thoughts and actions of your main cast.
  3. Passage of Time: If your story takes place over a six-month or year time span, or really, anything longer than a few weeks, you’re likely not going to need to show every single day, hour, and minute of that stretch. Chapter breaks are perfect for skipping over the boring, unnecessary  parts while indicating that a significant amount of time passes between page 35 and 36.
  4. Location Change: This one might seem obvious, but if the first three scenes take place in a school, but the fourth takes place in a park, back alley, pet store, etc. that might be a good time for a chapter break.
  5. And, finally, my favorite reason to create chapters: Conflict: Chapter breaks can also be used to heighten suspense; either with a cliffhanger, a  time jump, or maybe just to give readers a breather during a particularly emotional scene. (Yes, scenes can stretch over more than one chapter, but that’s a discussion for next week.)

Challenge of the Week: Why do you think chapters are important?

How to Outline: Using the 3 Act, 9 Block Structure: Part 3

Here is the final part of my tutorial on outlining with the 3 Act, 9 Block Structure. If you’re new to this series, check out Part 1 and Part 2 as well as  Katytastic’s YouTube video, and  Brittany Tenpenny’s blog posts, which both inspired this series.

In explaining the final nine parts of this strategy, I will once again reference The Hunger Games (THG) movie, so spoilers ahead.

Act 3: The Resolution

The traditional order of act three is:

Block 1

Trails

Pinch

Darkest Moment

Block 2

Power Within

Action

Converge

Block 3

Climax

Battle

Resolution

But, as I have said before the order of the steps in each act can be tweaked and rearranged to most effectively tell the story. I believe in THG, they are as follows, and that is the way I will discuss them:

Block 1

Trails

Pinch

Climax

Block 2

Battle

Darkest Moment  

Power Within

Block 3

Action

Converge

Resolution

Block 1 (Set up):

Trails: This is the part of the story where the hero is tested on multiple occasions to further prove his or her dedication. In THG, the entire games could be seen as trails, but by this point, the final series of tests come in the form of staying alive long enough for the last few tributes to die so Peeta and Katniss can go home.

Pinch: Plot twist number two. The stakes for the protagonists. In the movie, Katniss thinks Peeta died by eating the deadly Nightlock berry.

Climax: The highest point of tension in a story. THG’s climax occurs when Katniss, Peeta, and Cato are the last three left in the arena.    

Block 2 (Climax):

Battle: in THG, it’s a literal battle between Katniss, Cato, and Peeta, which ends with Katniss shooting Cato to end his misery when he is being muffled by the mutts.

Darkest Moment: The hero is at their lowest point and does not know how they will go on. After the battle. Katniss and Peeta think the Games are over, only to have the GameMakers declare there can once again only be one victor.

Power Within: Similar to dedication. The hero must find the courage within themselves to move forward. This happens when Katniss and Peeta refuse to kill each other.

Block 3: (Resolution)

Action/Converge: There are usually two separate steps where the hero takes action and then all of the elements of the plot come together, but in THG, I think they can function as one. Katniss realizes that someone needs to win in order for the Games to truly end, but also finally gives in to her love for Peeta and refuses to kill him. Instead, taking action, and dividing some Nightlock between her and Peeta. If she’s going to die, she’d rather do so by her own  terms, as would Peeta.

Resolution: The final solution. The GameMakers panic upon seeing them eat the Nightlock and retract the rule before they can swallow. Peeta and Katniss spit out the berries and are allowed to go home.

And that’s the final act! I hope this tutorial was helpful to you!

Challenge of the Week: Was this helpful? What should I talk about next week?

 

How to Outline: Using the 3 Act, 9 Block Structure: Part 2

Happy Monday, everyone, and welcome back to my tutorial on outlining using the 3 Act, 9 Block Structure. If you’re not familiar with this form of outlining, make sure to check out Part 1 of this series as well as  Katytastic’s YouTube video, and  Brittany Tenpenny’s blog posts, which were my go-to sources when I began using this method.

Let’s get started looking at Act 2! I will continue to use examples from The Hunger Games (THG) to illustrate each step in the 3 blocks of this Act and explain how they connect to create the overall climax of the story, so spoilers ahead.

Act 2: Block 1 (Set Up):

New World: The main character is either literally or figuratively tossed into a new world. In The Hunger Games this transition is literal, as Katniss is thrown into the arena.

Fun and Games: This is usually where the hero is given a chance to adjust to the new environment without the pressure of the conflict immediately rearing it’s head. Because THG takes place in an arena meant to be a battle to the death, I don’t believe this step exists in the movie or the book. If you have another opinion, feel free to comment below and share it with me.

Contrast of the Old World: Here the main character is reminded of their original duty or home, and it dawns on them just how much their life has changed since the first act. In THG, it’s a nostalgic connection. I would say this comes into play the first time Katniss meets Rue because Rue reminds her of Prim, for whom she volunteered to go into the Games.

Act 2: Block 2 (Conflict):

Build Up: This is another sort of set up moment, because it prepares the  character for the “Midpoint,” which, while not the climax, significantly shifts a character’s goals, or point of view of the world. In the context of THG, Katniss and Rue team up for a time. Katniss becomes very protective of her because of how much Rue reminds her of her sister.

Midpoint: As I said before, this is where the character has a major revelation. For Katniss, it’s Rue dying. Since they met, it has been Katniss’s personal goal to keep Rue safe. I think, on some level, it’s kind of a metaphor for the way she cared for her sister. She feels like, if she can keep Rue safe, Prim will be safe as well.

Reversal: This is the explanation of  how the character has changed as a result of the Midpoint. Rue’s death causes Katniss’s goal to shatter, and it is the guilt she feels at not being able to protect her that leads to her refusal to be a pawn to the GameMakers.

Act 2: Block 3 (Resolution):

Reaction: How the protagonist reacts to the events of the Midpoint and Reversal. In THG, the GameMakers change the rules so that if two members of the same district survive, they can both go home. This Katniss prompts to go off in search of Peeta. If she couldn’t get Rue to safety, she is at least determined to make sure the boy who saved her from starvation when she was younger stays alive.

Action: The protagonist begins to change the course of the plot themselves. rather than letting others change it for them. In THG, Katniss finds Peeta near the river, almost dead,  and disguised with camouflage paint. She helps him to safety and they take refuge in a cave.

Dedication: This is another piece to reinforce dedication of the hero to their new goal. Katniss’s goal is to keep Peeta alive, so when the GameMakers announce that the items each contestant needs most are waiting at the Cornucopia, she doesn’t let Peeta stop her from charging into what will surely be a bloodbath in order to secure the medicine they need to heal him.

And that’s Act 2! Next week, I will conclude the series with Act 3.
Challenge of the Week:  Was this helpful to you? What would you like to see me talk about when I’m done with this series?

How to Outline: Using the 3 Act, 9 Block Structure: Part 1

Last week, I discussed one of the two methods I used to outline my current work in progress debut, and I plan to continue that trend in this three part miniseries on the 3 Act, 9 Block Outlining Structure. Once again, this method is not of my own creation and  this post will be heavily inspired by Katytastic’s YouTube video, and  Brittany Tenpenny’s blog posts.

In contrast to the Hero’s Journey method, which I discussed here, 3 Act 9 Block structure is more detailed. Some call it the 3 Act 9 Block 27 Chapter Structure, because it has 27 parts in total, and each part can be used to create a chapter. I prefer just to call it the 3 Act 9 Block Structure, because, though I use all 27 parts, it feels less restrictive.

Now, I know based one what I said, this process sounds pretty complex, but trust me, it’s not as bad as it looks. Let’s break it down.

There are three main “Acts” in this outline. Act 1 is the Set Up, Act 2 is the Conflict, and Act 3 is the Resolution. Each act then has 3 blocks, or 9 steps, within it. The first 3 steps determine the problem, the next 3 show the effect/conflict with the problem, and the final 3 illustrate a solution to the problem.

I’m going to continue my theme of using movies to illustrate how this works, by expanding on what I already did in my Hero’s Journey post with The Hunger Games. (THG).  This post will cover Act 1, next week Act 2, and the following week, Act 3. Spoilers ahead for THG.  

Act 1 : Block 1 (Set Up)

Intro: This part coordinates with the Ordinary World step of Hero’s Journey. Katniss’s  ordinary world is district twelve. She is poor, forced to sneak past the electrocuted fence and Peacekeepers so she can hunt and provide for her family. She and her sister, Prim, live in fear of being chosen at The Reaping, an annual ceremony where one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts are chosen to fight in a duel to the death, aka, The Hunger Games.

Inciting incident: This can coordinate with The Call To Adventure, where the first major problem arises. In THG, it’s Prrm being chosen at The Reaping.

Immediate Reaction: What happens right after the first major problem is established. In my opinion, this is Prim walking up to the podium, and Katniss volunteering.

Act 1: Block 2 (Climax):

Reaction: This is used to illustrate the long-term effects the Immediate Reaction will have on the characters and the overall plot. For THG, it means that Prim is safe, but Katniss must not only adjust to life as a tribute, but the fact that she will be fighting in a battle to the death with Peeta Mallark, a boy who saved her from starving to death by tossing her a burnt loaf of bread.

*As with the example, this can be a good place to introduce sub-plots, like Katniss and Peeta’s relationship.

Action: Up until now, the protagonist has let the plot happen. Here, they turn the tables, and start taking circumstances into their own hands. I’d say, this is when Katniss shoots her arrow at the GameMakers when they aren’t paying attention, because it is her first rebellious act since becoming a tribute.

Consequence: Exactly what the name says; the repercussions of the hero guiding the story. The GameMakers give Katniss a twelve in training because they don’t want Panem to find out how she disrespected them, and they also start watching her more closely.

Act 1: Block 3 (Resolution):

Pressure:  The protagonist feels the biggest impact that her actions had. In the case of THG, this happens in tandem with Consequence. Katniss, before and after the judging, is banking on her score, because she knows that will determine, in part, at least, how many sponsors she gets. Sponsors are essential because they provide funds to send the tributes life-saving amenities in the Games.

Pinch: The last major conflict, or tipping point. I consider this to be Peta confessing his love for Katniss during the interviews, because it creates tension both between her and Peeta as well as giving the audience insensitive to want to watch them. This causes the Capital to focus on her during the televising of the Games, and allows them to see her rebellious acts. It also solves the “problem” of gaining sponsors for the Games. 

Push: The entry into Act 2. In THG, Katniss enters the arena.

And that’s Act 1 of the 3 Act, 9 Block Structure. Next week, Act 2!

Challenge of the Week: Did this help? Do you agree with how I split up the plot? Why or why not?       

 

   

 Outline Using “The Hero’s Journey”  

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had recently completed the comprehensive outline for my work in progress.  For me, it was relatively easy once  I got started, but finding the perfect method to work with proved quite difficult. So, in hopes that I can make the outlining process easier for other writers who, like me, haven’t written an outline in quite some time, I want to share my process.

For my outline, I used a mixture of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey,” and the 3-Act, 9-Block Structure. Neither of these techniques are my original creation and I make no claim to inventing them. Everything I am about to share with you is inspired by the following sources: Katytastic’s YouTube video, Brittany Tenpenny’s blog posts, and this post on The Hero’s Journey from yourdictionary.com.

Let’s start with “The Hero’s Journey.” What is it? The Hero’s Journey “template” that I followed is a 12 step process that allows the writer to map out the major plot points of any story. Yes, I said any story.

Seeing as the process is called “The Hero’s Journey,” you might think that this form of outline can only be used for genres that include some kind of quest, like action, adventure, or even retellings of classic fairy tales. I used to think the same way. Many posts and testimonies I read swore that this method could also be used to guide a romance, but didn’t give concrete examples. Today, I intend to change that. I’m going to use three different movies to show you exactly how this outline works, and some of the the versatile ways it may be applied.

This post will contain spoilers for The Hunger Games, (HG) Letters to Juliet, (LJ) and Titanic (T). I chose these three movies because, in my opinion, they span a wide range of genres: action/adventure, romance/adventure, and of course, the classic tragic romance. Let’s get started.

Step One: Establish the Ordinary World. This is pretty self-explanatory. What is the character’s life like prior to the first major conflict?

HG- Katniss takes care of her sister, Prim, and her mother, who has not functioned well since Katniss’s father died in a mining accident years prior. She lives in the slums of district twelve, sneaking between the wires of the fence to hunt for food in the woods with her best friend Gale. Katniss sells most of her kill at the Hob to provide for her family and entered her name in the Reaping 17 times to secure extra grain to eat.  The Reaping is a yearly event in which a boy and a girl are chosen from each of the twelve districts to compete in a fight to the death, known as the Hunger Games.

LJ- Sophie is a fact-checker for a pristine journal in New York. She desperately wants to be a writer, but can’t work up the courage to tell her boss. Her fiance, Victor, is a chef in the thick of preparing for the opening of his new restaurant. He supports Sophie’s ambitions, but is much more interested in his food than her dreams.

T- Rose is engaged simply to solve her family’s economic woes and she does not wish to marry her fiance, Cal.

Step Two: Call to Adventure. This is the first major conflict in the story that gets things started.

HG- The Reaping, when Prim’s name is called.

LJ- Victor and Sophie arrive in Verona. Victor wants to meet with vendors of his new restaurant, but Sophie wants to see the sites.

T- Rose contemplates suicide to get out of the marriage by jumping over the side of the ship.

Step Three: Refusal of the Call. The protagonist or main character rebuffs the opportunity, usually for reasons born out of fear, but not always.

HG- There is no refusal of the call from Prim, but instead, an acceptance from Katniss when she volunteers in her sister’s place; a decision born out of fear for her sister’s life.   

LJ- Sophie refuses to go see the truffles that Victor wants to show her, and opts instead to explore the city by herself.

T- I would argue that Rose’s refusal has been swapped with Step Four, so we will get to this in a moment.

Step Four: Meet with the Mentor. This is the first time the main character encounters a friend– someone to help them, who often spurs the story forward.

HG- For Katniss, this is  a literal, meeting with a mentor, as she is introduced to Haymitch, who will advice her throughout the games. Haymitch also gives the viewer a bit of context into how the games work, and what challenges Katniss may face later on.

LJ- While exploring Verona, Sophie comes across Juliet’s house, where she sees a woman taking the love letters that people have stuck there throughout the day, off of the wall. She decides to follow her and discovers that she is one of the Secretaries of Juliet. She works for the city and, along with her three friends, answers all of the letters with return addresses on them. Later, Sophie goes back to the wall and finds a fifty-year-old letter that was never picked up. She brings it to the Secretaries, who encourage her to answer back. Thus, creating a catalyst.

T- Rose is saved from jumping over the side of the ship by an artist named Jack Dawson. They form a friendship and she realises that she would rather spend time with him than Cal. This is where the refusal comes in, as she initially tries not to reciprocate Jack’s advances for fear of her mother’s reaction.

Step Five: Crossing the Threshold. The protagonist either leaves their normal world, or a large shift is caused in their normal world, and the stakes of the plot usually heighten.

HG- Katniss does this several times, but the largest and most obvious is her entrance to the arena when The Hunger Games officially begin.  

LJ- A man, Charlie, Comes to the restaurant where the secretaries of Juliet usually work, questioning which of them wrote the letter to his grandmother, Claire. Sophie admits to doing so and Charlie explained she has now come to Verona to search for the love of her life, whom she ran from fifty years ago. Sophie and Claire meet, and Claire agrees that Sophie can come with them on the journey, as Sophie hopes to document it in a story.

T- Rose realizes the ship is headed for an iceberg.

Step Six: Test the Hero. This, again, should be relatively self-explanatory. It’s where the “meat” of the story happens, and often takes a good chunk of the narrative.

HG-Throughout the Games, Katniss faces several tests in order to survive. She must kill her other opponents and evade being found or tortured by the devices of the Gamemakers.

LJ- Sophie, Charlie, and Claire journey to find Claire’s love Lorenzo, traveling far and wide, but to no avail.

T- Rose and Jack run to try and warn Cal and Rose’s mother. Cal does not find the sinking ship as important as getting Jack away from Rose. He found a sketch that Jack made of Rose  in their stateroom, and plants the Heart of the Ocean, his engagement gift to Rose, in Jack’s pocket, resulting in his arrest when he is accused of the theft. Rose hurries to free him. They try to save as many as possible as the ship sinks.

Step Seven: Approach. This is where, after facing many trials, the hero must change their approach in order to succeed.

HG- For me, Katniss has two approaches, but the biggest one occurs when the Gamemakers announce that, if two people of the same districts are the last ones standing, they both get to go home. After this, they focus on working together to get home, instead of being determined to sacrifice themselves for each other.

LJ- After one search for Lorenzo leads Sophie, Charlie, and Claire to a cemetery, Charlie encourages her to give up the search, and Sophie begins to think perhaps they will never find Lorenzo.

T- Cal tells Jack he can get them both on a lifeboat, Rose gets on one.

Step Eight: The Big Ordeal. This is the Hero’s largest challenge. Everything has been leading up to this,

HG- The final conformation between Katniss, Peeta, and Cato at the Cornucopia.

LJ- On the way to bring Sophie back to her hotel after the last day of looking for Lorenzo before Sophie must return home, Claire asks Charlie to stop at a vineyard she recognizes. The young boy working the field is a spitting image of Lorenzo when they were younger.

T- Rose decides she does not want to be without Jack and jumps back on the boat. Cal takes a gun from his pocket and chases after them, aiming to kill Jack. Cal exhausts his bullets and opts to escape on a boat by holding a child.

Steps Nine/Ten: Reward and Going Back. This is the point where the ultimate goal is accomplished or  failed, and things begin to return to normal.

HG-  Katniss and Peeta are the last two standing after Cato is killed.

LJ- Lorenzo comes home to the vineyard, and he and Claire reunite. Sophie returns to the hotel to go to the airport, even though she is hesitant to go back to Victor, having fallen for Charlie.

T-  Jack and Rose survive, for now.  

Step 11: The Final Test. This is the last and often most difficult test, though not necessarily the most climactic.  

HG: The Gamemakers take back the decree that two tributes from the same district can make it out alive, forcing Katniss and Peeta to kill one another. Katniss would rather die than do that, as would Peeta, so instead, they each move to swallow deadly Nightlock berries, banking on the fact that the Gamemakers would rather have two Victors than none.  

LJ- Sophie breaks up with Victor, choosing to attend Claire and Lorenzo’s wedding alone in hopes of confessing her feelings to Charlie. She finds him there with a girl named Patricia, whom she was told was his ex-girlfriend. She excuses herself from the reception.

T- The boat splits in half. Jack and Rose plunge into the water. Jack helps Rose onto a piece of driftwood, but it can only hold one person’s weight, so he treads water and dies before they are rescued.

Step 12: Return. This is where everything wraps up, also known as the resolution.

HG: The Gamemakers stop Peeta and Katniss from swallowing the Nightlock, and let them both go home. They are crowned Victors, but their actions have sparked rebellions in the districts.

LJ- Charlie goes after Sophie, who them confesses her feelings, but concludes by saying it doesn’t matter because he’s back with Patricia. Charlie explains that this Patricia is not his former girlfriend, but his cousin. The two reconcile and agree to give a relationship a try.

T-   Rose is rescued.

I use this outline as a starting point, because I think it’s helpful for seeing the “big picture” and overall arc(s) of the story. The 3-Act Structure is more detailed, and further breaks down these major points, so I use it to refine and add specifics, such as  adding trails to the “Tests” step, and to clarify any loose ends. I hope this post has been helpful in explaining “The Hero’s Journey” and some of it’s various applications. Next week, I will post the first part of my explanation of the 3-Act, 9-Block Structure strategy.  
Challenge of the Week:  Was this helpful to you? Do you agree or disagree with the parts of the stories that I cited in each step? Why?