Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chapter of Confusion

I think I just finished the second to last chapter of my current novel. Well, the first draft of it anyway.

Problem is, the damned chapter is 17 manuscript pages (double-spaced) long. I think that's too long for a YA novel.

Initially I ended the chapter at a suspenseful spot that made it 13 pages long. Not too bad. Then I wrote another four pages and came to a spot and thought "THIS should end the chapter!"

Now what the heck do I do?

Well, first thing is to write the next chapter and finish the first draft. When in doubt, finish the damned thing first, then worry about the details. When in doubt, leave it for the rewrite. All answers will be revealed (or fudged) then.

The real question is - how do you know when to end a chapter?

First, know your genre. In YA, the chapters don't tend to be very long. In literary novels they tend to be longer.

Second, to keep your readers interested, try to end the chapter at a moment that begs a question. Sometimes it's an obvious question: will the protagonist survive that ten-story fall into a damp dishrag? Sometimes it's subtle: Will your heroine be able to put aside the pain of her breakup? They key is to create some sort of suspense that will compell the reader to keep reading.

Third, OR, end the chapter when you've reached a point in the story that is very final. This is the case with my latest dilemma. At 17 pages, this chapter is long, but it now ends in a supremely logical place, at the end of a long bit of climactic action that resolves a ton of issues. The only remaining chapter will be the denouement, tying up a few loose ends, lending some emotional weight to the events we just saw, and so on. I wouldn't recommend doing this too often with chapter endings - it won't drive your reader forward as much as my second point, above. But near the end of a book, it makes a lot of sense and gives your reader a feeling of satisfaction and finality.

So I think I answered my own question. Damn the length of the chapter. Just end it when it's supposed to end. Heck, I'll probably cut a ton of stuff during the rewrite anyway.


Baley Petersen said...

That last bit is my'll end up cutting it down in the rewrite and it won't be so long in the next draft, so don't worry about it now.

Nina Berry said...

Genius! Am going to relax about it now. Thanks, Baley!

Baley Petersen said...

Haha, glad I could help, Nina! ;) I can't wait to read this book of yours! I'll review it on my blog! Now all you have to do is get it published.