I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker the other day about the art of writing. She asked how far along I was, and I responded with, “I’m on chapter 7.” She asked, “How many chapters are there?” And I answered, “I don’t know yet.”
I’m sure more experienced writers can tell you exactly how many chapters they plan to write, how long the book will be when it’s finished, and how many pages each chapter will be. Well, this is my first go at this, and I’m still learning just what it takes to write a full-length novel.
I’ve done a lot of research and still have a lot to learn, but from what I’ve read, a novel can be anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 words. I don’t know how that translates into the number of chapters, though.
As I explained to my co-worker, I just write in “scenes,” and start a new chapter when I need to. A “scene” is simply a part of the story, and just like in a movie, a scene has a beginning, middle, and end. Maybe a scene starts with two people driving down the road in a car. They have left from some place and are heading to another place. The middle is what happens on the drive. The ending can happen once they get to where they’re going. Maybe one character is being dropped off by the other character, who then leaves.
So now this character is the only one at the new location. That could be the beginning of a new scene, especially if the character encounters a new character to interact with. These two scenes could take place in the same chapter, depending on how long each scene is. Or if a scene ends and the next scene takes place at a different location or on a different day, that is a good time to start a new chapter.
Each scene should have a purpose. It must either move the action of the story along or give you some new information about a character or the plot. It could be a “flashback” of something that happened in the past that has to do with the plot or the character’s “backstory.” But it must have a point to make.
Some writers make “outlines” of their story, so that they know which scenes to write and in which order so that the story is organized and moves the action along. Other writers are called “pantsers,” meaning they fly by the seat of their pants, just letting the story take them in any direction, and seeing what happens along the way.
I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I know enough about my story that I have a rough outline and an idea of what needs to happen when and where. But the details are not tied down, so I write along and make it up as I go, putting in stuff I hadn’t thought about until that moment. As long as I end up near where I wanted to be at the beginning, I think I’m okay.
Tonight as I was writing along in chapter 7, I realized that I should’ve ended the chapter a scene earlier. So I chopped out the remaining scene and started chapter 8 with it. Some of my chapters are much longer than others, but all of that will get better organized in another draft.
For now, I’m cruising along, taking in the scenery and enjoying the ride, seeing what new things I might explore. But all the while, I still have my GPS turned on, letting it remind me when to turn in case I get sidetracked.