Chapter Structure

When I am writing a chapter I always have an idea of what that particular piece of the big book puzzle should contain. Even when I think I know what’s going to happen in the chapter I still won’t know until it’s finished because things start to unravel as I actually start writing. I may, for example, expect my characters to be interrogating a person but then suddenly that person has a Labrador puppy that runs around the scene, licking the police and making a ruckus.

Theses kinds of things are often called padding, meant to pad the story, but they are very important because they make the story more vivid and give the reader a better sense of the story line. In my case I don’t know what sort of padding each chapter might have, I generally only have an idea of what’s going to happen, but as I start writing I soon realize that I need to add an element to that chapter and that it should be of this particular sort, whatever sort that might be.

Another thing I find very important is to not allow my paragraphs or my sentences to become too long. I write in Icelandic so we are not prone to sentences as long as are common in the English language, something to look out for as this might be different when it comes to other languages. Paragraph length is of great importance and also knowing how to organize similar sentences into the same paragraphs and not cutting them in the wrong places. If my characters are at the scene of a murder I would describe the surroundings, the body, the work of the police and I’d try to organize those three either in three different paragraphs or join the ones that fit well together in one.

When I write conversations I always split up the speech of each character into separate paragraphs. An example of this would be:

“I think I’ll remove this one,” Johnny said as he carefully removed a Jenga piece from the bottom of the stack. He watched as the tower trembled a little and didn’t dare exhale in case a small breath would be enough to knock it over.

“You’re so lucky when it comes to this game,” Simone exclaimed astonished over how easy it seemed to be for her brother to win all sorts of balancing games. She then chose a piece, removed it and watched as the tower started leaning and then fell. “Oh no,” she cried out, grabbed her dolly and walked away, whimpering.

As you can see in this small story I choose to give each character their own paragraph. If a character continues speaking after I write a description of some event then I continue said speech in the same paragraph. It took me a while to get to this setup but I am happy with it. I find it easy to read and follow but this can vary between writers, some even choose to mix together different people speaking into a single paragraph as long as the conversation is about the same thing.

I also have to have my bottom line. If I don’t have a BAMM effect at the end of my chapter then I’m not amused. There has to be something that makes the reader think, something that feels like a punctuation and it can be pretty much anything. In my opinion the reader should KNOW that the chapter is finished, not because there aren’t any more words, but because it feels finished. It feels like a whole story.

If you take my chapters out of context you can actually look at them as their own short stories. They might not all make a lot of sense as a story, especially chapters that are based on something that happened previously in the book, but their setup is as such. If you even look at the small purple story piece I wrote above you can see my BAMM effect in the end and you can see that it wraps up to be a tiny little story. I would like to add a small beginning to it to make it even better but it could still work as it is.

Then finally, as my publisher said to me, the most important thing is that I am happy with my text and my chapters. If I don’t like it, then it needs more work and this is in my opinion a good reference point. Write and fix until you’re happy, then send it away to fly into the big world of literature.

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