Five Ways to Write a Chapter, and One that Worked

“Save the pitched-out awful pages someplace where you can find them again,” I said. “Sometimes the discarded bits turn out to come in handy later. I think I told the folks at Viable Paradise the story of The Five Different Chapter Nines and the Adventure of the Too-Short Novel didn’t I?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she said, “though my memory is appalling. It sounds like a charming story. Do I have to go again this year to hear it?”

Nope, she didn’t, and neither do you. The way it goes:

There we were, writing the second novel in a three-book YA horror series, back when Young Adult horror was booming. And we kept getting stuck at Chapter Nine (out of about eighteen or so; mid- book, in other words, our favorite place to get stuck.) It took us about five tries to get unstuck — not five attempts at the same chapter, either, but five completely different Chapter Nines. And when we were, finally, able to push on through to the end of the novel, the book still came in short. We knew it was too short, but by that time we were so exhausted that we couldn’t think of anything to do about it. (I think that was the book I finished on an all-nighter fuelled by instant hot chocolate made using coffee instead of water — a truly deadly brew — and eventually collapsed in bed, weeping, about 4 a.m.)

Time passed, and we got the book back from the editor. “It’s great,” she said, or words to that effect. “But it needs to be about 10,000 words longer.”

“Urk,” we said. “Yes, ma’am.” And — but not to her — “Where the hell are we going to get another 10,000 words?”

And the answer turned out to lie in those four discarded Chapter Nines. We cut them apart into their component scenes, sliced them and diced them and intercut them with the existing material, and — somewhat to our own astonishment — the plot actually worked better that way than it had before. Things were explained that had been obscure, stuff was played out on stage that had been merely referenced or implied, the pacing was right for the first time . . . in the end, we used every single scene in those discarded chapters except for one, and that one was a scene requiring the use of a brand-new, previously-unreferenced character in whom our heroine had to place a good deal of insufficiently motivated trust.

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