Art by Matthieu Bourel
I love everything about the blog and your work, kudos. I am writing my first book (non fiction), and am lost as to how to break the whole thing into chapters.
Thank you, darling. Great question. I used to break up my manuscript into chapters as I wrote it every day. In the morning I would start a new chapter, and by the end of the writing day I'd try to finish it. The good part of it was, I completed a chapter a day. The bad part of it was, I have constrained my writing into this one-chapter-per-day schedule, and sometimes I rushed my story to make it happen, and the rushed part almost always had to be rewritten, so I wasted time.
Later I got smarter. I read a lot, as in, A LOT, and I steal chapter structure I like. It struck me to see some chapters very long and others very short in the same book. "How could that be?" I thought. I would imagine what's to follow can apply to any book, fiction or non-fiction.
Instead of focusing on chapters focus on the scenes.
A scene is a little nugget of a story that contains a beginning, a middle, and an end, has a specific set of characters, a particular setting, and moves the bigger story from point A to point B. It could be a couple sentences. It could be a paragraph. It could be a page or more. Think of it as a single shot in a movie. We zoom in on the city and see cars bustling to and fro and pedestrians scurry along the sidewalk under umbrellas and the door of a building open and an old crazy lady step out with a cat on a leash and a purse. Or something. Now, this was one scene. Next we cut to the close-up of the lady and follow her to the hot dog stand and see her trip on the leg of a bum and spill gold bricks from her purse and see the cat screech and escape, leash and all. Or something. This is the second scene. When the rather young and pimpled police officer starts talking to the lady, that would be the next scene.
As you write this (or revise or edit), keep another open document handy and for each scene type in a number and a one-sentence description of what happens (that's what I do).
- The town N wakes up on a rainy Thursday morning.
- The crazy Mrs. Wood is on her way to the bank, with her cat.
- The bum is a secret agent who makes Mrs. Wood spill her gold.