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  1. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Formatting: Limit of Chapter Length, and Can your First Chapter Exclude your #1 Character?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by DK3654, Oct 13, 2018.

    Something I have thinking about as I get further into writing my book, is formatting chapters. So far, I have been writing my chapters with an average length of a little over 5,000 words in mind. This is fairly on the high end, as far as I can tell. One of the reasons I have done this is my story is divided into multiple key character perspectives, but these characters aren't so disconnected that I would feel comfortable writing each chapter to a character- I want some room to breathe with each chapter with what the characters are doing while touching on all the key characters in each one. So far though, at least, I have found I haven't really needed the length to do this, as there are ways I could easily divide my scenes into a larger number of smaller chapters. And while I like the idea of moving around between characters a bunch in every chapter, I wonder whether people would rather see things broken up more even if it means missing out on characters, or at least not seeing very much of them, in some chapters.

    Related to this, my first chapter currently has 5,762 words, putting on the very high end of my already long chapters. I think this is reasonable as it is this long to cover the initial action focused sequence, then introduce the #1 character, then connect what happened in the action scene to them. However it is still rather long, and I wonder whether it would be best to take the 3600 word action based sequence as the first chapter, and then continue in the second. One of the main reasons I felt compelled to put the second part in is because while the first part introduces four of the major characters, including two main characters who are very much almost as important as the #1 character, it doesn't include the #1 character in any way. I wonder whether this would be appropriate as a first chapter then, or whether that means it should be a prologue? And if the chapter is just too long, maybe I should simply shorten the parts rather than break it up, but I'm not sure how to shorten it very much without ruining the story.

    Touched on a lot of concerns and ideas here, but the key question is basically: how do you break up a story into chapters? If that helps digest it.

    If you want more detail, I have posted most of chapter one in the workshop (though some minor edits have been made since):
    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/foreshadow-very-first-scene-1-360-words.158798/
    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/foreshadow-introductory-excerpt-jade-1-081-1-301-words.158666/
    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/foreshadow-main-protagonist-introduction-966-words.158991/
    And I might post the full first chapter if people want it.
     
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  2. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No one cares about chapter length. Look at Dosteovsky, and compare his chapter lengths with James Patterson. So long as there's a logical reason for events to be grouped into a single chapter, it's fine.

    As for whether the first chapter can exclude your MC - that depends on genre. Crime novels will often start with the first murder victim. Romance novels, however, have a rule that the main love interest (and obviously also the MC) must have appeared by the end of chapter 1, maybe chapter 2 at a stretch but really, chapter 1 if you're writing a debut, I would think.

    If there's good reason why your MC can't be introduced in Chapter 1, fine. If there's no good reason, don't do it. Simples. Can the book be written with the MC in Chapter 1 and still make sense? Or is it absolutely not possible? The answer to these questions should tell you whether it's a good idea.

    A prologue should be back story that's happened a long time ago that cannot be left out in order for the main story to make sense, and should detail something that affects the core plot in a major way and give it context. Watch also the fact that most newbies misuse prologues and therefore they have a bad rep. Does your current opening fit the definition of a prologue? If not, don't call it a prologue.

    TL;DR - you're overthinking it. As for MCs, read up on genre conventions.
     
  3. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Well yes that has been my general thinking. But I was wondering how my story handles character perspective affects the decision. And how close exactly I was to the limit where it's just absurd.

    Okay. So that would seem to suggest it would be okay here, as my story is probably closer to crime than romance.

    Well I have the sequence of scenes. I am mainly asking whether it's appropriate to draw the line before the #1 MC is introduced or not. Which is to say, it is important to have the MC feature in the actual first chapter, or just about that early on?
    I do have a chapter's worth of content written that does not and should not include my #1 MC. It is set somewhat before the rest of the story, but not very far. I chose to put it alongside the introduction of the #1 MC because I do like the way that part loops back near the end and together they setup up the storyline in it's component parts.
     
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  4. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    In addition to what @Mckk said, I would add to just keep writing. It sounds as if you're some way into your story already, which is great. You have something to go on. It is so common to completely change the first chapter or two, after you finish writing. You may discover (as I just did with mine) that the first chapter you wrote is NOT actually where you should begin.

    I'm dumping my own Chapter One. It's taken me this long and this many edits to realise it just isn't needed, and that it isn't a good start to the story. My Prologue gives the information the reader must know, but my Chapter One is an unnecessary distraction. Interestingly, Chapter One is the way I began my first draft (although I didn't write all the chapters in order.) But Chapter One is how I presented the start of my first draft. I didn't write my prologue till after I'd had beta feedback and rewrote my second draft.

    Basically, I've discarded my original starting point. It seemed necessary at the time, but hey. The story evolved, and it's no longer necessary. The POV is inconsistent, the tone isn't right, and it creates an unnecessary mystery. It's one of the reasons I've struggled to actually get the story polished to publishing standards. This change will mean I'll need to rejig ALL my chapter numbers (!) and edit closely to make sure I haven't pulled any threads that could make the whole thing unravel. But I know it's the right thing to do. I liked the chapter, but it has to go. I do love these Eureka moments!

    Just keep going. It's not until the whole thing is done that you truly begin to see what needs to be pruned. Keep in mind that whatever has happened in your story world (the one that's in your head) it doesn't all need to be written about. You may discover that your action scene and characters you think you need to introduce your main character with MIGHT not be needed after all.

    Just keep going and see where you land.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2018
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  5. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Yeah, that's always good to keep in mind. I do like to try and learn along the way though, and it can be easier to move forward if you improve what you've already got.
     
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  6. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    That advice has got a good ring to it, but I don't think writing really works that way, at least not for this kind of developmental issue. You really won't see the whole picture till you're done—at least not until you've got many successful novels/stories under your belt.

    I know the analogy isn't perfect, but I was also an art student for many years, and one of the things we learned was that it's important to develop a painting or sculpture as a whole.

    At first it went against the grain for me to do that, because I'd taught myself to draw by first doing 'the eyes,' then 'the nose' then the 'mouth ...etc. And often wondered why, when I backed off, that the portrait didn't look right. Turned out it was because I didn't get the shape of the whole head and body and background and character down as a basic sketch first, and instead tried to perfect each little part before moving on. That was a huge breakthrough for me, and my drawings and paintings improved massively after I adopted that working method. Get it sketched out. Get the lights and darks established. Figure out the colours. Keep all parts of the piece at the same level of development until near the end.

    It's very similar with writing. Until you have the whole shape and colour of the piece in front of you, it's difficult to know what to correct, what to erase and what to develop.
     
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  7. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @DK3654 - an entire chapter's worth of content without your MC sounds excessive. Are you sure none of this could be reduced? In crime novels, that first "chapter" before the MC arrives is often no more than several pages long. I've recently cut my opening, which used to be several pages long, right down to roughly 2-3 paragraphs. But you won't know what's necessary till your draft's finished. I've also made a very deliberate decision to talk about a character that doesn't appear till near the end of the book - but I know why I did that because I needed the reader to anticipate a character and feel something for the character long before he ever appears. This character is part of the biggest twist in the whole novel. Again, I needed to have had the whole book before I knew that I needed to do that.

    I don't see how chapter lengths is relevant to how you handle character point of views. You can handle multiple POVs within the same chapter, or if those POV characters are major characters, you could separate them chapter by chapter. This concerns more the tone of your book and the sort of story you're trying to tell, and has little to nothing to do with how long your chapters are. It also depends on how good you are at POV switches. If you don't have an intuitive sense for when a POV should change, chapter-by-chapter separation might be easier to do. Mine was done intuitively and at least one reader has commented on how well done it was, so I'm guessing, hoping, I don't have a problem. Personally I have 4 key POV characters plus 2 more minor ones - that's quite a few - and chapter lengths haven't concerned me and so far as my two alpha readers have noticed, it hasn't concerned them either.
     
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  8. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    It does features two characters who are almost at the same level as the MC. And it setups up the main conflict, which the MC doesn't get involved in until later, but which these characters will deal with from the beginning as the main character gets slowly dragged in. I thought it would make things more interesting if we know from the very beginning that there is this plot line going on while the MC does mundane things, so there is tensions around how the MC is going to get involved. Perhaps I could shorten that sequence though- it is currently 3,586 words, divided between a couple characters, then the rest of the 2176 words of the first chapter follow the MC.

    Okay, so you don't think perspective is restrictive then.
    So far, I've been switching perspectives based on moving between different scenes in which the characters are off doing their own things.
     
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  9. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I disagree with the idea that it's always best to just press on and keep writing. I'm sure that technique works for some, but it doesn't generally work for me. Not with the first chapter, especially. It's in the first chapter that I establish (for myself, as much as for the reader) what the story is going to be about, how it's going to be told, etc... for me, it's worth fiddling around for a while to get that first chapter right before I plunge on and write the rest of the book.

    I also disagree with the idea that nobody cares about chapter length. I've had editors request that I change my chapter divisions around in order to make all chapters approximately the same length. I'm sure there are times and genres and publishers for which it doesn't matter, but... sometimes it does.

    In terms of the questions from the OP, and having reviewed the excerpts from the link... I worry that you're a bit scattered with your focus, here. Writing multiple POVs effectively is really tricky. It's hard enough to make readers care about ONE character, but trying to get us to care about several? Not easy. I'd suggest simplifying your story and sticking to one POV. I'd also suggest taking some time to really figure out where your story starts. In general, it's a good idea to cut as much as you can off the front end... a lot of the stuff you've included probably feels like essential background, but I don't really think it is. The police officer's POV feels like it might be a "darling" waiting to be killed... I imagine you want to show readers how a police officer views the "special" people you write about, but you can do this in a line or two from one of the "special" people's POV. You don't need a whole scene for it.

    Similarly, I'm not sure what the point of the scene with Sarah is. It feels like filler, to me. In general, I try to have every scene convey something about at least two of: plot, characterization, setting, or theme. In the case of this scene, I guess we get a bit of characterization, but that's pretty much it. I don't think it's working hard enough for you.

    So, yes, I would try to start the book with the MC's POV and I'd strongly recommend STAYING in that POV. Again, writing multiple POVs is really hard.
     
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  10. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Interesting.

    Hmmmm. I might increase the focus on my MC, but I'm very hesistant to remove all or almost all of the other character's perspective parts. It's just something I want to do with this story. I don't really mind the challenge if it means writing the story I want to write.

    I have been thinking I might remove that bit. Especially given what you've said about the number of perspectives, that one is easy baggage to cut.

    Sarah's scene establishes characterization mainly, but also some plot and theme. I might cut that scene down a bit though, or try to include more bits and pieces of plot and theme. It is a bit mundane.
     
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  11. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    Multiple POVs is common and useful though, because it establishes connection to multiple characters which is useful to give significance to side characters rather than monomaniac MC focus, and it allows to deal with stuff that is outside that one character's perspective. IMO in some ways one perspective is harder because it is simpler but also more limiting. Everything that happens without them is invisible. Every thought or piece of info outside their head is gone. That's not necessarily worth it just for consistent writing and ease of comprehension that not everyone with actually prefer. I reckon it depends on how much your other characters matter and whether you particularly want to show different lives and perspective. A lot of stories prefer to expand beyond a super important MC.
     
  12. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I guess it may not be more difficult to write, but I think it's more difficult to write effectively. That is, it solves one problem (getting information across to the reader) but, to my mind, often creates a larger problem (making it difficult for the reader to really engage with the characters). There are almost always other ways to get the required information across.

    Of course there are lots of really effective novels written with multiple POVs. But based on what I see on writing sites there are also lots of really ineffective novels written with multiple POVs, and I truly believe a lot of them are ineffective because the author is not yet skilled enough to handle multiple POVs effectively.
     
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  13. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    But again, surely giving characters POV makes them more engaging? It's not like in one POV the other significant characters are supposed to be boring, mysterious or unrelatable. So giving them time, when they should already be engaging, seems more obvious to me than the alternative. There's a lot of different ways to handle it and you can limit it to just a few major POVs but on POV seems fairly specific and restricted just not that enticing to be a default.
    Anyway, before we go too off-topic, I would say with chapters limiting it a more normal 3-4k type length would be safer. And you can more precisely break the chapter off into relevant pieces while longer chapters are more open to the feeling this does need to go together. And it creates a more fluid sense of pace and rhythm while long ones might feel dragging and with less distinct energy to each one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2018
  14. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But if we haven’t even seen the MC yet, how will we feel that tension? How do we recognize who the MC is?
     
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  15. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Before we've seen the MC, other important characters are there. And the tension I was talking about was after we first see the MC.
    The plan is the MC will be recognised by the sheer amount of the story dedicated to them, how central they are to the plot, and the way they are introduced after a prologue-esque introduction. And while I do have a single #1 MC, I have two other characters who could be considered MCs who are very much important as well and I don't mind it not being immediately obvious which of these characters is going to be most central.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Other important characters that the reader may assume are the MC.

    When a story starts with Character A, and gets the reader invested in them, and then pushes them aside for character B, so that the reader has to re-invest, I regard that as a problem, not a bonus. It may happen for some strong specific need, but you seem to be seeing that invest-reinvest cycle as an inherently good thing that justifies itself. I think it’s an inherently bad thing that needs some strong justification.
     
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  17. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Well that's part of the reason why the current version of the first chapter doesn't end before introducing the MC and then connecting them to the other characters.
     
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  18. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    "Push them aside" seems like odd wording. As if the other characters are sort of beaten down and diminished, rather than just being a bit more important which seems to be the thing here.
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know what you mean here. I don't think that any character is ever supposed to be boring, and rarely are they supposed to be unrelatable. Sometimes the author might want them to be mysterious.

    Maybe you don't mean "supposed to be"? Could you rephrase/clarify?

    I do have several POV characters in my WIP. That may or may not be unwise.
     
  20. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Well, it's not at all infrequent to have a prologue that presents characters that do indeed never again appear. It doesn't sound like that's what we're talking about here, but nevertheless, I think that the later the MC appears, the more likely the reader is to have invested in another character and to have trouble investing in the MC.
     
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  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Just so I'm clear--which character is your MC?
     
  22. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Sarah.
    The others in rough order:
    • Jade, Alex
    • Ashling, Damian
    • Stewart
    • Wesker
     
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  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    That's a lot of POV characters. I'm not saying it's not possible, but, well, it is a lot. I'm also recalling that you and I had some discussion about the extent to which you were holding back on personal information about Jade. I'm concerned that you may be focusing heavily on suspense and mystery and tension, and not enough on the characters.
     
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  24. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Regarding your reader wondering who the main character will be ...are you planning to mention this character in the first chapter?

    Just making the observation that IF Sarah is known by the others, and will be important, if they mention her, or seem to be aware of her, then we'll be wondering about her, and be ready to find out what she's like.

    In that sense, not presenting your main character till Chapter Two will work, and it might work well. If your other POV characters seem interested in her, we will be too. We'll be eager to meet her, because she's obviously important to the others.
     
  25. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society

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    Stewart and Wesker are not POV characters, Ashling only gets a little, and Jade and Alex get the most other than Sarah. I was just listing the most important characters.

    Withholding information with Jade was mainly about not ruining Sarah’s plotline by revealing things a bit too soon, as Sarah is the unknowledgable perspective character here.
     
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