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How are chapters plotted?

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On my last writing project I'm currently trying to re-plot, I managed to get to around 20,000 words. I'm not really sure how I would go about expanding it to 35,000 words, without adding flash back "back story" arcs -- which I've heard can actually be detrimental. I started out by having sixteen separate episodes completely plotted using a 11 or 15 plot structure.

I'm just a little outside of my element, as I'm used to writing stories that end at 2,000-4,000 words. I know how to plot a 2,000 word short story, but not sure how to plot a 2,000 word chapter. Unless of course I simply thought of it as a short story like in my first novella I largely consider a somewhat failed experiment.

How is a chapter typically thought of?

Going from flash fiction to novelette and novella is mega weird.
#1 - March 09, 2014, 06:49 PM
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Sarah, I feel your pain since I'm also a short story writer. I've only written novels because the story was too big to be in the short form and I wanted to explore many different angles.

I think in terms of scenes. Each scene is like a mini-short story in that something happens to escalate the problem and there is some sort of resolution but things end up on a worse note.

Some books that have helped me with novel writing are:
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass, Sol on Writing by Sol Stein, Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, and several others but these I refer to on a regular basis.

One of the best things you can do to study novel writing is of course to read great novels and then taking a couple you love and breaking them down chapter by chapter, scene by scene to see how they are structured.

Good luck on this journey.
#2 - March 10, 2014, 05:13 AM
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I usually don't plot much.  I start with a beginning and end in mind. Then I ask questions of myself. What would make the journey harder for the character? Who would interfere and why? Who would help and why? What if the other characters weren't intending their aide and interference? What's the worst thing that could happen to this character? How would he recover? How could that thing be made even worse later? How would other characters react to that worst thing? Does this aide or interfere and why? I often do this while writing.

When I've done the first draft and let the manuscript sit a bit, I go back to the questions. I ask them for each character to help with subplots I've hinted at but not fleshed out. Then I go back to each event and ask if it's necessary to the plot, character, or setting/tone. Ideally, each event in the story informs at least two of these. I may combine scenes or characters at this stage. I also look for places (with the help of critique partners and beta readers) where I have left out info. 

Sometimes my chapters are mini stories. Other times, they are more like real life where one event may not have a clear end. I often separate the chapters in the third draft as I see a theme for the scenes emerge.

Keep in mind that 35,000 is a guideline. Shorter is okay. Tell the story in the number of words you need to tell it. Figure out what format it fits into afterwards.

I hope this helps.
#3 - March 10, 2014, 08:51 AM
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I'd suggest that the first question is whether this story is a novel or a novella in terms of the story.  I have ideas that are meant for smaller scale, & then there are those that require several books to tell.  I cannot condense some into something short, whereas others won't work in book-length or series length.

One strategy if a story IS book length is breaking it into "acts."

Act 1: 1/4 of the book (15k).  This establishes the world, the characters, & introduces the seeds of the issues.
Act 2: the meat of the story. This is 1/2 the book (30-40k). It's the action (sparked by the end of Act 1). The plot twists, worst case scenarios, & etc go here.
Act 3 & Act 4: about 1/4  of the book (10-15k).  The big battle/epic climax (8-10k) & the denouement (2-5k) go here.

There are lots of other approaches, but sometimes that one seems logical for a project.  Good luck either way :)
#4 - March 10, 2014, 09:57 AM

In thinking of it like that, I've found a big problem.

I need to focus on spending more time with the characters and not so much on introducing new ones (that when reading back over it, didn't really further the plot.)

I'll look over that method, thanks.^^
#5 - March 10, 2014, 06:31 PM
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Hi, SarahW---I'm a little late here, and maybe you already have all the answers you need, but I'll add the following. In novel-writing, I ask myself a bunch of questions as I'm planning each chapter: What does my MC accomplish in this chapter? Where will the MC be by the end of the chapter? What's the primary emotion of the chapter? What are the sources of tension for the chapter? Of course, as I'm writing, things might change, but this helps me not just write aimlessly. I also look carefully at the ends of chapters, asking whether they push readers forward into the next chapter, and at chapter beginnings to see if they (as Mary Kole says in WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT), remind readers of the action and hook them back into the story. Once I've got a draft and am revising, one of the things I do is to revisit the earlier questions, and at the same time, ask how the chapter contributes to the overall plot. I also look at the shape of the chapter to see where I've placed the most important information (for example, have I hidden it in the middle?). The point is to make sure it's placed where it has the biggest emotional effect.

Hope this helps!
#6 - March 23, 2014, 06:13 PM

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This is tricky since so many people do their plotting differently. I have a video on how I plot and I have plotting sheets that can get you started. I have heard great things about Save the Cat too.

Here is my website page that has those links and videos:
#7 - March 24, 2014, 09:35 AM
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