1. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82

    'One chapter per character' style

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by mashers, Jun 6, 2016.

    Dear all,

    I've wanted to write a novel for many years but my ideas have never felt sufficiently substantial. I've been mulling over an idea recently which I feel could develop into a science fiction saga across more than one novel within the same universe. I'm really excited about this but trying to restrain myself from making too hasty a start despite writing a 3,500 word opening chapter yesterday to try out some of my character ideas. I'm happy with the way it's going so far and I'm now going to make some plot flow charts and character plans before continuing to write. I've also written a short essay on the core science fiction concept which underpins the plot so I can remain consistent throughout.

    I'm planning on writing the novel with a structure in which each chapter focuses on one particular character's sub-plot, each as a distinct entity. This will be similar to Murakami's 1Q84, in which the chapters were entitled 'Tengo' and 'Aomame' to indicate which of the characters the chapter focused on. Throughout the book their plots become further intertwined.

    My intention is that each character's sub-plot explores a separate implication of the technological advance at the core of the science fiction. I have not yet decided to what extent the characters will meet and interact with each other, if at all. I intend for some of the characters to appear in other stories within the same universe.

    Now for my question. I am unsure whether the best strategy is to write the sub-plots for each character all in one go, or write them in chapter order. For example, the chapter structure might be something like:

    Chapter 1: John
    Chapter 2: Jane
    Chapter 3: Steve
    Chapter 4: John
    And so on (not real character names btw...)

    Would it be best to write them in chapter order, or write all of John's chapters, then all of Jane's, then all of Steve's etc?

    Any input would be welcome. I'm sorry if this post is too long or in the wrong section.
     
  2. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,160
    Location:
    London, UK
    Welcome to the forum!

    When I write dual-perspective I write in order, but my characters very quickly meet and their plots intertwine, so it's not quite the same. I think in your shoes I'd be tempted to write each sub-plot separately and then begin writing in order once the plots interweave or the characters meet.

    But I'd also plan out the chapters in advance to make sure they aren't too repetitive. For example, your first few chapters will introduce characters and take the reader through the same process. So make sure John, Jane and Steve are all doing different things and are all in different 'moods' in their opening chapters. It'd be dull to be introduced to three depressed, moping characters all sitting in their rooms crying. It's much more interesting to meet one character being fired and dreading telling his ill wife, then jump to one ecstatic because she's just found out she's pregnant.
     
  3. jannert
    Online

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,797
    Likes Received:
    7,318
    Location:
    Scotland
    Oh, gosh. That's not easy to decide right off the bat, is it? Maybe just start writing and see where it takes you. You might feel, after writing three chapters of John, that it's time to write a Jane chapter or two. Whether you stick them in between each other is something you can decide later.

    However, if what they do affects the others—for example, if John starts a war and Jane's weapons business grows because of the increased spending on the war, and Steve's parents are both killed near the end of the war—it would probably make sense to present these chapters in chronological order.

    Make sure each chapter's facts don't clash with what has gone before in the other chapters. Also, as @Tenderiser mentioned, be careful not to repeat information more than is necessary to re-orient the reader.

    It is slightly disconcerting to get yanked in and out of POV characters' heads, so keep that in mind as well. If your chapters are long and contain well-developed arcs, then the changing back and forth probably won't be distracting. If you draw each chapter to a believable conclusion—even if there is still a lot more to come before the end of that character's involvement in the story—the reader will be ready to move on. However, if each chapter is short and punchy, and the reader is always left dangling with some kind of a cliffhanger, then I think this might be tiring to read after a while. Whenever I read this kind of story structure, I inevitably start skipping ahead to find 'that' character again and resume his part of the story.

    I'd say just get started and see how you feel about it, after you've written a few chapters.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2016
  4. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,518
    Likes Received:
    1,345
    My wife has just finished a book with different character POVs in each chapter. Towards the end of the book, the chapters got VERY short...this could happen as John's actions impact on Jane's, necessitating her response, and then Steve's reaction to it...before getting back to what John did next.
     
  5. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,160
    Location:
    London, UK
    A lot of romances do this with scene breaks. I prefer making a cleaner break with one POV per chapter, but scene breaks are another option for this kind of action>response structure.
     
    jannert likes this.
  6. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thank you all for your helpful replies and such a warm welcome to the forum :)

    @Tenderiser
    That sounds like a good compromise, and I had considered it. I'm currently charting out the story arcs for each character so I will be able to identify when and how they will interact (if at all). I think I will continue writing chapters for the character I am exploring at the moment as I am enjoying developing him further and introducing new plot elements to round out his part of the story, and when I get to a part where he needs to overlap with another character (say, a "John and Jane" chapter) I'll stop writing him, then go back to the beginning of the book and start writing the next character's chapters. Your advice about interspersing very distinct characters is excellent and I will definitely bear this in mind. The characters are all going to be in completely different situations so they will definitely be in different emotional positions, so it should just be a case of ordering the chapters when written so they contrast nicely.

    @jannert
    I'm definitely going to alternate between characters' chapters once the chapters are all written. I don't want it to read like three separate short stories. The actual sequence will depend on where the characters' actions within each of their sub-plots occurs chronologically within the overall plot. I'm hoping that with careful planning, the actions of each character on the others should remain consistent (though they don't have any interaction or even awareness of each other at all in the opening chapters, and I'm not sure to what extent this will continue...) Your advice about 'POV yanking' is really helpful. I'm going to be flexible with chapter length as this takes some of the pressure off and keeps it interesting for the reader. I like how David Brin does this. A short chapter can really make its content stand out as significant. I don't want the reader to be encouraged to skip ahead and read each character separately, so I'll take on board your suggestion of not having too many cliffhangers at the end of chapters, with each chapter representing a relatively complete story arc for the character with just enough interest to keep the reader wondering what happens to them but no so much that they skip ahead. It will be difficult to get the balance right!

    @Shadowfax
    1Q84 does this too, but if I remember correctly the chapters got shorter towards the middle of the book as the characters became more closely intertwined, ultimately culminating in them meeting, and then the chapters got longer again after they had met as there was more dialogue and the story arcs got more detailed again. I really enjoyed reading the book, partly for this reason.
     
    jannert likes this.
  7. Diane Elgin
    Offline

    Diane Elgin Member

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2016
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    England
    Is it an ensemble epic, a collection of novellas or the same the story being told from different perspectives? It seems like if there's one over-arching story and that different characters play important roles, it would be wise to put your chapter in a chronological order. If everyone's story is stand alone or if it's a 'Go!' scenario where we follow the same series of events from different characters perspectives, then you're building up tension while leaving key bits of information to whoever the final character is.
     
    Simpson17866, mashers and jannert like this.
  8. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    @Diane Elgin
    There's an overarching concept, which is a particular piece of technology which is discovered and which changes each of the characters' lives in a fundamental way. Each of them has their own story to tell, which describes how they change and develop as a response to the technological change which is occurring. One of the characters will take more of a lead role and will be responsible for the exposition to the technology to the reader as he discovers what it really is, and ultimately through his arc for its destruction. I intend for some of the characters to interact but I have not yet decided how or why. I do not want the 'main' character to be seen as a lone hero or a Hollywood stereotype, so I definitely want his success to depend on some of the other characters to some extent, but not in the sense of them all winding up working as a team. Some of them definitely need to tell their own stories in isolation.

    I'm now wondering if this is too complicated...
     
  9. Diane Elgin
    Offline

    Diane Elgin Member

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2016
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    England
    As long as it's clearly structured ahead of time, you should be fine. You might want to read 'Trainspotting' by Irvine Welsh. If you can decipher the dialect, it's technically a short story collection written around the central theme of heroin abuse and the desolate underbelly of Scotland in the late 80's. Chiefly, 'Trainspotting' focuses on Mark Renton as he half-heartedly battles heroin addiction and depression, but also features character pieces from his 'friends' (I use that word lightly) as well as one or two particularly haunting standalones that still tie into the central subject but aren't about Renton.

    For your particular story, I'd recommend going chronological and identifying the narrator at the beginning of each chapter. Maybe make a plan before you start, laying it out chapter by chapter.
     
  10. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thank you @Diane Elgin! I have planned the broad themes for each character (literally just a sentence summarising the concept their story arc explores). I am now elaborating each of these in the form of a flow chart, each node of which will correspond to a chapter and summarises the sub-story arc within the chapter. As the plot becomes more elaborate I can entangle and disentangle the branches of the diagram to reflect overlap between the characters. Once that's all done, I should be able to write each chapter in any order. I hope this doesn't sound formulaic. I need this kind of structure in my thinking otherwise I get too confused. The plot will definitely be chronological, and each chapter will be headed with the name of the character(s) to which it relates.

    I will certainly look into Trainspotting as it sounds like an excellent recommendation for a similarly structured novel. I never watched the film version as the topic does not interest me particularly, but I will certainly read the novel to draw inspiration.
     
  11. Diane Elgin
    Offline

    Diane Elgin Member

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2016
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    England
    Happy to help. Quick heads up though, the stories aren't for the squeamish. ;) I don't know where you're from but as a native English speaker I found the style of writing difficult at first so if you need any help deciphering the slang and dialect, feel free to PM me.
     
  12. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    Thanks :) I'm from England too and have a background in linguistics, phonology etc. The excerpts I've read haven't posed too much of a problem for me to understand. I'll order the Kindle version rather than physical copy as I don't want to delay too long (I am aware that I can tend to be impulsive and want to plan this properly. It could be my one shot at writing a decent novel).

    I've done some more planning this afternoon and I am excited that I've been able to weave all of my characters plots together in a realistic way. They will all cross over in various combinations which I hope will achieve the desired effect. The problem I am having is establishing the 'main' character and how he/she will bring about the resolution. I feel there should be some interaction with the other characters, but currently every attempt I make to plan this part of the plot feels forced whereas the other ideas are flowing naturally. I feel it's because I already know the main events of the denouement and am now trying to work backwards. I'll have to think on this some more.

    Thanks again :)
     
  13. doggiedude
    Offline

    doggiedude Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2016
    Messages:
    1,452
    Likes Received:
    1,248
    Location:
    Florida, USA, Earth, The Sol System
    My WIP sounds like it's the same format as the one you described. I can't imagine trying to write each character's story arc individually because as the story was written details came out that affected the other characters. If I tried to write each one separately, I would have ended up rewriting entire chapters after figuring out all of those details.
    My first few chapters are pretty short allowing for character introductions and they get much longer toward the end.
    The basic structure is:
    Chapter 1 - Character A & B
    Chapter 2 - Character C
    Chapter 3 - Character D
    Chapter 4 - A & B
    Chapter 5 - E
    Chapter 6 - A
    Chapter 7 - F
    From there, they all start intertwining & with character A getting almost every other chapter.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  14. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    @doggiedude
    I'm coming to the same conclusion. Though as I said above, I've broadly planned each chapter and I know who will be in each and what will be happening, so I should be able to follow an individual across several chapters for a little while.
     
  15. ddavidv
    Offline

    ddavidv Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2013
    Messages:
    353
    Likes Received:
    240
    Location:
    Pennsylvania, USA
    The Girl On The Train is written this way.
     
    jannert likes this.
  16. ArQane
    Offline

    ArQane Member

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    23
    The Kane Chronicles
    The Heroes of Olympus
     
  17. MichaelP
    Offline

    MichaelP Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2014
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    49
    I always work out the characters and plot before I start writing. Maybe that'll help you? If your novel is to contain multiple storylines, then I suggest figuring out the novel's climax and then working backwards from there.
     
  18. mashers
    Offline

    mashers Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2016
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    82
    That's good advice. Actually each character has their own individual climax and I am planning out the individual sub plots to make sure the events don't conflict. There is one character who has a direct and destructive influence on the core concept so I just need to make sure this happens after the other characters' stories are no longer dependent on it.
     

Share This Page