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Things you need to know

This is the page that I sort of consider misc. on bookwriting.  It is made of research on the topic's and I owe a lot of thanks to a good friend of mine for the making of this page.  But she will remain annonymous right now, as she wants.  Of course, we are all familiar with "Chapters" from the time we were really young and we read our first chapter book, and slowly, as we read more and more, we find that "Chapters" start to change.  They get longer and more difficult in plot.  This page will aqquaint us with exactly "what" a chapter is and how we can write chapters ourselves.  I hope you get useful information out of this, and I wish you all the best in your writing!

What is a chapter and how do you know you have finished one?

The big secret about chapters is that they're not much of anything but a convenience for the writer, and secondarily for the reader. There are days when you simply aren't getting the pages done that you want and you desperately want to say you've finished a chapter because your brain needs to focus on something fresh. So you come to the end of a sentence, make the next one a cliffhanger, and break. Chapter Two appears and you can tell your significant other that you did an entire chapter in one day. You feel better, the book doesn't suffer, and the next day you get to work on a new character or a different location or whatever.

Technically, a chapter needs two things. It should consist of one or more complete scenes, and something ought to change. (Lawrence Block did some chapters that were only one sentence long, and that constituted the entire chapter. The one that comes to mind is "Chip, I'm pregnant," from one of his Chip Harrison books.) Beyond that whatever you decide constitutes a chapter (and your editor will let you get away with) pretty much does. I was anal about chapters for a while, insisting that each needed to consist of three scenes of ten pages apiece. This was totally unnecessary from an artistic standpoint, but the Procrustean bed I made for myself while I was doing that taught me some important things. First, a writer can fit just about any amount of information into just about any amount of space. Second, that writer will develop a real feel after a while for the pace of the writing -- if you must accomplish a certain amount of action in ten pages, then you will, and sooner or later you'll almost know your length to the exact word count. Third, anyone that anal needs to be smacked upside the head a few times.

I got over that stage eventually. (And you're wondering why I ever got into it in the first place? I was writing ten pages a day and wanted to finish a chapter every three days in order to meet a couple of deadlines. Obvious, huh?)


How long should a book be?

Long enough to fit between the covers.

Seriously, though, if we're talking novels for adult readers that are not series books for a specific line (like Harlequin Romances), if you write something that runs from 80,000 to 120,000 words you'll be in the prime marketability range. Shorter than that and the book will look thin on the shelf and have a harder time convincing readers to part with six or seven bucks. This is a thing called 'perceived value' and you will ignore it at your own risk. Longer than that and your publisher will have to invest more in paper and printing for each book, and if it's your first novel and he isn't sure it's going to be a blockbuster, he'll have to worry about getting his money out of it.

For series books, write off and request the guidelines. For children's and young adult books, the lengths vary by age, and since I haven't done any of these, I'm not a good source for information. There are books that can tell you what you need to know.

How do I know when my book is good enough to sell?

This is such a reasonable question, and I wish there were a reasonable answer for it. There isn't. You know when an editor calls your house and offers you money for it. Short of that, there isn't any way to tell. If you believe in your book, keep sending it around (while you work on the next one). The fact that it's gathering rejection slips doesn't mean it isn't any good. The Postman Always Rings Twice got its title from the fact that the way the postman let the author know his manuscript had come home in its little brown body-bag again was by ringing the doorbell twice. That book not only sold (eventually) but made its author's reputation and made everyone involved with it a lot of money.

When you are writing a book though, try not to constantly think "Is this going to sell good?!"  Just look at the bookstores these days, most of them are lousy!  Your book may be good, really good, or even excelent, but it may not sell good because of all the stupid books out, overcrowding the good ones.  Whatever you do though, do not get disscouraged by this.  Keep writing and know that a lot of good books do sell well.  And good writing has it's reward, even if it takes painstaking time.


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