Chapter versus Structure

2 minute read

Wordcount: 49,000+ Chapters 6.2 Start: 2009 Status: Ongoing

I’ve battled in the past with how to structure the book; will it be a 1:1 relationship between scene and chapter, will each chapter have numbered sections like books of old, will the length of a chapter be determined by wordcount?

It’s the kind of thing an ADHD mind can get lost in.

On top of that, because of the chaotic way I’ve written in the past, I’ve had a lot of repeated explanations, sometimes contradictory, written because I’d forgotten earlier chapters.

This might be ok in a long-running book series, but it’s useless in the same novel. For instance, the same kind of thing pops up in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series…

Rivers of London
Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the US) is the first novel in the series of the same name by English author Ben Aaronovitch.

…and the same in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files.

The Laundry Files
The Laundry Files is a series of novels by Charles Stross. They mix the genres of Lovecraftian horror, spy thriller, science fiction, and workplace humour.

The endless cycle

Writing is easy. Rewriting can be hell on wheels on the edge of an active volcano. I exaggerate, but some days it feels that way.

What doesn’t help is that I’ve got a perfectionist bent. I need this story to be coherent, logical and believable, with characters that act from understandable motives. I don’t like stories where characters act like morons to overcome a plot issue.

Back to the chapters

Monika has pointed out a few times that the book would work well as a TV show, and I’d always felt quite chuffed with that idea. What hadn’t occurred was that TV shows often have a three act structure.

So I tried assembling the scenes that way and was surprised that the structure worked very well, and gave me the framework to determine where each scene worked best. The structure was already there, but I couldn’t see it because I was concerned about wordcount. What’s more, based on this structure, I discovered I’d written 90% of the book.

But more emerged from this framework, a coherent beginning, middle and end. On top of that, I discovered some characters are under-utilized, and there are scenes that are more useful for them to be in.

That’s the problem with toiling in the trenches. Examining the quantum means you don’t see the bulldozer coming towards you.

What’s this mean then?

Writing on the fly is great fun. It’s helped me become a better writer and to find the characters and who they are. And now I’ve got the framework I can see where they need to be at any one time.

I think Terry Pratchett mentioned this when discussing the maps of Discworld designed by Stephen Briggs.

Companions & Maps
Lose yourself in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, then get your bearings with a multitude of marvellous maps and companion books!

He mentioned that actually seeing the map of Ankh Morpork gave him a framework to work to, and that framework was actually helpful. It gave him ideas about how to approach plot and story. And it’s the same for me and the book.

In other words, the rewrites will continue until the writer is happy. But right now, I can see the end of the tunnel and there’s daylight on the other side.