Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chapter Goals and The Serial Model

Once upon a time, in days of old, there lectured a professor on the monetary origins of chapters being rooted in the serial publication model. The author had to write the weekly submission with enough of a story and a cliff-hanger to draw the readers back the following week(s). Alexander Dumas, père's "The Three Musketeers" and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock" were the better-known examples. Oh, and of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

My recollections of the rest of that class are a haze of 
blah, blah, blah; wah, wah, wah; and 
"did I swallow the tequila worm last night?"

Clearly, the part to which I paid attention was the "give them a reason to need to buy the next paper." That was exchanged for "give them a reason to keep reading." The best way to do that is to make sure each scene/chapter resolves an earlier question, presents a risk, and ends with a pivotal moment. In essence, each chapter has to have a purpose. A goal. Linking the goals develops the plot and modulates the pacing. As long as a chapter's goal builds off of the previous chapter's success or failure, your story structure remains solid.

The end of the chapter should never be construed as 
the author's permission to put down the book.

The driving purpose of having a goal for the protagonist to achieve -- or utterly fail to achieve -- for each chapter is to create a escalating series of actions and consequences that keep the reader engrossed in the entire story. One weak navel-gazing/grass-growing scene and the momentum is shattered. The book is put down, the phone is answered, the TV is turned on, or the cat-box is cleaned.

The reader has left your world.

I do my best work when I write with the "serialized author" mindset.  When I stray, the "cut scenes" file ends up with a higher word-count than the actual novel. If the scene/chapter doesn't move the story forward, it's got to go, right? Riiight? If it doesn't, then you're not selling the next paper. If you're not selling the paper, then the paper isn't buying your next submission.

If the paper isn't buying your next submission, then you're broke.

So, dear readers who are also writers, consider constructing each scene/chapter as a snippet, as bait, as an advertisement to buy that next paper. You'll save yourself a lot of time during edits...and you'll be able to tip the newsies.

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