Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Structuring a chapter

When you are daunted by the weight of revisions and re-writes ahead of you, it pays to break your edits into small chunks. (See previous post). Somewhere between points 1&2 lies the need to structure each chapter individually and be sure of its purpose in the story. It is useful to look at chapter structure in the same way as you might look at whole plot structure - in that you have setting, set-up, rising action, climax and falling action. 

Plot structure
But you also need to consider the goal of each scene, and you won’t necessarily have a resolution, unless of course this is your scene of absolute climax.
So, let’s look at an example in this story – SALLY FINDS TREASURE.
The EXTERNAL goal of the whole story (as opposed to the internal, emotional goal) is for Sally and her new friends to find hidden treasure.
Here is the scene where it looks like all this might go wrong.
THE GOAL - What is the goal of this scene?
  • To put Sally in jeopardy
SETTING – Where is this?
  • A lonely beach, West of Cumbria
SET-UP - What needs to be done to set this up?
  • All the children need to be on the beach with their buckets and spades.
RISING ACTION - the drama which puts the ultimate goal in doubt.
  • The children play in the sand – burying each other and having fun at first
  • Sally and Todd have an argument
  • Sally storms off into the nearby cave to sulk
  • The tide starts to come in to the cave
CLIMAX
  • Sally is trapped by the incoming tide…
End of chapter - NB there is no falling action or resolution yet.
In the following chapter, the headstrong Sally will need to find a way to free herself, OR call the others to save her. But either way, it’s ultimately this act which will lead to the discovery of the hidden treasure.
Sally’s INTERNAL goal is to be accepted as part of this new peer group. Her INTERNAL conflict and emotions will give the scene even more depth.  
So, Sally will be playing happily, but when she argues with Todd this happiness turns to anger and forces an impulsive reaction, causing her to run away. Sally will experience fear, and possibly indecision – being torn between admitting she was silly to run off, and never wanting to speak to the other children again.

Both EXTERNAL and INTERNAL conflicts should be part of the overall CONFLICT within the whole story. 
If you were to go through each chapter in your novel in this way, by the time you reach the end you will have a very good sense of everything in its place, and be able to approach any rewrites with confidence, before moving on to the fine tuning.

And they all lived happily ever after ... kind of.

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