What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oh Great Internet Brain...

I'm in the middle of rewriting the first chapter, which is a mix of world-building, character setting, and action. I'm about halfway through the action and I'm already up to 3200 words (first draft, or draft zero, however you like to count it, was only 2770 words). And I'm stuck with a question that maybe you all can help me with.

Since the work is growing again, I'm thinking of breaking what was chapter one into two chapters. Now, while we jump into the action pretty quick, there is a natural lull in the middle of the action. I could break it at either 1600 or 1800 words (there could also be a break at 2600 words, but that only feels like a break because of the horror of the action slows the pace down slightly). At 1600/1800 words there is a bit of a pause that would allow a clean stop before starting the next action sequence. Literally going from one room to the next.

So, here's what I'm thinking. For an action scene, 3500 words (my guess of where it will end) feels way too long. The original 2800 was too long for the critique group (many people commented that it felt like it should have been a faster read). At 1600/1800 that would make the first chapter a fast read (and the second chapter coming in at about the same would have the same feeling). But then I would follow an action chapter with an action chapter instead of an action/rest/action/rest sequence (although I do have two rest chapters together later on). I could put some back story in between, but that feels artificial and would lead to a "Wait, we're about to die here, WTF are you doing going away from the action now" reaction from the reader.

What do you think? Would you be opposed to having two action chapters that concern the same characters right at the beginning of a book? If you knew the main character had just escaped death and was about to jump right back in would that lead you to "turn the page and keep reading all night" from a cliff-hanger approach? Or would you rather have a longer single chapter that left you feeling like you tried to eat the five-pound hamburger challenge because it would be free if you finished it, but now you're packed to the gills and there's still two more pounds to go?

5 comments:

Jarrett said...

My wife and I just talked about this a few nights ago. We both agreed that we liked books with shorter chapters. It makes us feel like we are making progress. Gives us a feeling of momentum.

She's reading a book now that is 350 to 400 pages long but only 12 chapters. She's enjoying it but can't get past the longer chapters. Says it's feeling like a slog.
I am reading a book of the same length but its chapters are only five to 10 pages long. That's what is keeping me turning the page. More, I think, because I know that even if this is a rest chapter it won't last long.

My two cents.

dendrophilous said...

If they were interesting, I doubt I'd notice two action chapters in a row.

Mer Haskell said...

I have done this. And by "this," I mean, "overthought the start of my book."

As long as people keep reading, there is no right or wrong way to do this.

For the purposes of a person who might be sending out the first three chapters of a work someday? I might stick with the longer first chapter, and redivide up into shorter chapters later.

But overthinking this will kill your momentum, and it's really not that important. Chapters are an artificial construct. It's good to end them on cliffhangers, sometimes. Shorter ones read faster, and seem better, on occasion. But overall, it's the scenes that matter more.

Gabriel Novo said...

I agree with Mer that as long as people are reading and the narrative flows, it doesn't matter the order. The action/rest pacing works in some instances, but not in all and should only be used where most effective.

Two action packed chapters back to back is a great way to kick things off. Keep the reader on the edge of their seat and when they think they can't take anymore, come in with the slower chapter to relax them.

You want to avoid killing your momentum. Like you've said before, you can fix a broken page, but not a blank one. Chapters can be re-shuffled, re-ordered and re-cut. Worry about them later once your tale is told.

Steve Buchheit said...

Jarrett, see, that's what I've been debating.

Dendrophilous, okay, well, I try and make them interesting.

Gabriel, good to know.

Mer, and I think I'm about to over-think, so time to pull the trigger.

"I'll do it!" So I'm going to break it up to keep the sense of quickness going. If I feel that the "first three" won't give such a good representation of the book, I'll merge them again for the submission.

So for those of you who have read parts, I'm making the break after Gary defeats the five people in the reception area and calls in. I'm thinking of starting the second part with a paragraph or two about the Hernandez family and who the son-in-law is. Hopefully not more than 30 words.