Your Novel in One Chapter

fightclub17.jpg

When I go shopping for a new book to read, I like to open potential purchases to the halfway point and read whatever I stumble upon. Why that’s madness, you must say, how will you know what’s going on dropping in the middle of all action? You need to start at the beginning! 

I assure you that I at least flip a few pages back to make sure I’m reading at least the beginning of that midway chapter. I’m not a monster.

My reasoning behind this is because I want to know if the author is able to maintain a strong focus on theme, characters, and plot throughout the entirety of their novel. Something always needs to be happening that not only progresses the story, but also encapsulates the spirit of all that has transpired so far.

Simply put, every chapter in a novel should encapsulate the entirety of the novel in and of itself so that if you were to isolate any chapter from the novel it belongs to, it can read like a self contained short story.

One of my favourite books actually started off as a short story that then became a much later chapter in the full novel of Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. It’s the chapter where The Narrator shows up to work with cuts and bruises on his face after having fought in a fight club the night prior, and nobody at the office has even the slightest nerve to ask what happened to him.

This is such a great story in itself because it raises so many questions and depicts something completely out of the ordinary. Despite it being very minimalistic in its narration, it is actually a very jam packed experience.

What I personally love about Fight Club and Chuck’s work in general is the ability for his stories to tell a lot without saying much. It’s pretty much implied how bored The Narrator is with his 9-5 job and life in general if he’s willing to get beaten to a bloody pulp at a late night underground fight club, and not even call in sick the next day.

Encapsulating a Novel Into One Chapter

Basic Plot

 

So this is a very basic plot line graph commonly used to organize the entirety of a novel. It helps you introduce your characters, settings, and themes, and build toward a climactic moment that defines the whole story. This allows you to easily detail the story into three acts: beginning, middle, and end.

What I’m proposing is structuring your chapters in the very same way as if that chapter defines your entire novel if it were to be taken at face value. This way your story has a strong emphasis and focus on what it’s all about at all times, with very little time allotted for the story to drag for a moment.

And that’s not to say that pacing wise stories aren’t allowed to slow down, of course they are, that’s when some details get the time to sit and simmer with the reader. Likewise, if a chapter is short and quick paced, the very little details you provide should still be just as fleshed out with knife like concision, very much like the original short story that later gave birth to Fight Club.

In order to create a well focused chapter, even to you pantsers out there, I highly suggest using a chapter graph that divides chapters into three scenes, and even having those three scenes divided into three mini acts of their own like this:

Chapter graph

Every chapter you write won’t have a clear cut structure like this, and like some rules, you might break these guidelines from time to time, but generally this is the structure that ensures your chapters can also function as self contained short stories.

Click here to download your FREE Chapter Graph!

 

 

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My Write to Live

blood on paperWhen I was a teenager I had suicidal thoughts, and on some unfortunate occasions, suicdal tendencies. I was bullied by the other kids and wanted to turn to the school staff for help, but most of the teachers I had were authoritatian tyrants or simply uncaring of my well-being. A vice principal I once had talked at me with throwaway advice without taking any time to understand how I truly felt. That same vice principal would later in the year fail to prevent a fist fight I got into, even though I had provided him a ton of evidence it was going to happen. Needless to say, I didn’t have the school staff’s trust because whenever I would defend myself from bullies, I would be the one who would get in trouble and shamed for my behaviour, for my emotions. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, not even my own family, I felt completely and utterly alone.

Or so I thought.

One of the few things I would find solace in was the music of Korn,along with other angsty nu-metal bands, but Korn was my all time favourite since I was a kid. I related to the raw frustration Jonathan Davis’ lyrics were written with and they inspired me to write some of my own in the same vain. Whether the lyrics were about the bullies I wanted to take down, the girls who rejected me, or the general feeling of emptiness by the end of the school day, I wrote lyrics to release these feelings somewhere safe where I wouldn’t get in trouble or be shamed for my behaviour, or my emotions.

Fast forward to my adult years, there was a time where my life was falling apart far worse than I had experienced in my teen years. To name very few issues I had out of a myriad of others, I was getting into intense fights with my family, had to leave a writing critique group due to fundamental philosophical differences, and worst of all found out that an ex-girlfriend of mine had committed suicide.

It was August 2014, I was unemployed and directionless. I had very little money left from a caregiving job I was severely underpaid for and felt empty. Now having grown up and survived my adolesence, I no longer contemplated suicide, especially considering the tragedy of my ex-girlfriend. I no longer cut myself and no longer imagined myself beating my chest until my heart gave out, but I still felt like my life was meaningless and that I didn’t have much reason to live.

Not until I journaled about everything that has been going on for me at the time. Not until I remembered that I had a half finished 2nd draft of a novel just sitting on my computer left untouched for many months. That novel of course was It Starts at Home, the very same anti-child-abuse themed novel that I had fundamental philosophical differences about with my writing group, likewise with my family, both of which, of course, are stories for another time.

For many months after leaving my writing group, I felt discouraged from ever writing again. But when I got back into it and got on my way to completing the second half of the 2nd draft, those feelings of inadequacy and meaninglessness disappeared. Those feelings of regret over my existence were all gone as well, for I rediscovered the joy and meaning I found in writing this story. Sure I picked myself up, applied for work, and got two jobs I put a ton of passion into, but they could never compare to my true calling. My true calling that I drowned out with the noisy distraction called “work.”

Of course! The answer to the question “what am I gonna do with my life?” has been right in front of me all this time, right under my nose, hiding in plain sight: I need to write.

And I stress the word need because writing is a necessity to my life just as much as blood is. To me there is no difference between the blood that drips through my veins, and the ink I bleed on to the page.

I was born a writer. Even when I was as little as seven years old I would skip school to write stories and draw comic books. I’m in love with stories. Whether they’re acted out in a TV show or film, printed in a book or set of lyrics, stories are what makes my life worth living. Not to mention the stories of our lives as I also find a great interest in the real life stories of those around me. All of our lives on this planet are a bunch of stories complete with their own twists and turns, character development arcs, and crossover narratives.

Stories, in any form, help me feel like I’m not alone. To know that others feel the same way I do about life and the human condition, that makes my habitual confusion and anxiety managable. From the lyrics and books I’ve read, movies and TV shows I’ve watched, all my favourite stories have resonated with me on an emotional level. They put the storm in my head into words and action, sequenced in honely crafted narrative that express the growth of character and the universal human desire to overcome life’s many obstacles.

As a writer, this is what I want to achieve. I want to strike a chord in those who read my lyrics, comfort those who will read my books, and let them know that all these confusing and conflicting emotions are all part of simply being human, and although there is no cure to them, they can be managed and understood.

As a writing coach, this is what I want to inspire in other writers. I want to help other writers, as I’ve painstakingly helped myself, to realize the power they have in putting their innermost vulnerable thoughts into the written word. The power to make readers, like myself, feel a lot less alone when life gets them down and when meaning seems all but lost.

The written word is My Write to Live.

It’s Your Write to Live.