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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Chapters vs. Scenes

I'm being a stereotype, sitting in a Starbucks with my netbook and a notepad, working on my novel. I'm judging myself pretty heavily for it, but at the same time it works. Even though I've got the internet and an unlimited supply of coffee*, there are still nowhere near as many distractions hear as there are at home. I've already been more productive in the hour-and-a-half that I've been here than I have been all morning at home.

I still haven't started writing the novel yet; I'm currently in the plotting and planning stage, though I'm nearly done. I've just learned a valuable lesson, and it's already helping me tackle this monster.

When I've tried to write novels before I've gone about it in one of two ways. Sometimes I've started with a character and a situation and just written, with no plot or plan and just a vague idea of where I want to end up. I call this The King Approach, because it's the way Stephen King claims to write. It works for me with short stories - it's how I write all my short pieces - but with novels I tend to get stuck or lose patience with myself or my characters, and I inevitably give up a few chapters in.

The second way I've tried has been to come up with a character and a vague idea and then try to write out a brief synopsis that I can then break down into chapters. This works until I get to the 'break it down into chapters' stage, where I inevitably end up with about ten chapters with loads of stuff packed into them and a vague idea that each one will be about 3000 words. Then I get depressed and give up, because 10x3000 is, according to maths, 30,000; certainly not novel-length. I tend to give up before I've started, because I can't find a way to bump up that word count without it being obvious that I've added padding.

So what's changed? I've used this second method over the past week with this faerie novel I want to write, and today I was going to start writing from the chapter plan. I looked at it again, though, and suddenly the fog lifted; I realised what I'd been doing wrong. I had chapters that contained two or three distinct scenes, and I was telling myself that I'd write the whole chapter in about 3000 words. No wonder I was coming up short! So today I've taken my chapter list and broken it down into a scene list, and lo! there was light! I've now got a list of about 15 scenes for my main character; even if each is only 2000 words, that's 30k words on my main character's plot, and I've got two other stories to intertwine into it. Even if they only come out at 10 scenes each, I'll have 70k words, and I guarantee some of these scenes take on a life of their own and come in over the 2k word mark.

So. Lesson learned, blog written... Now I should do some work, shouldn't I?

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