What to Write in Those Confounded Chapters

What to say; what to say…
What’s your method for filling your chapters with words?  I begin with my outline topics for each chapter.  I do a lot of staring at the stupid blip blinking on that blasted blank white page.  Then I force myself to start elaborating on the topics.  When I can’t think of anything else to say about a specific topic, I move to the next topic and start babbling about it.  And back and forth I go. 

The beauty of the computer is that you can jump around scenes or even thoughts in any particular chapter.  You can just click where you want to pick up the topic and start typing.  Stop and then start somewhere else.  And of course you can always go back to modify what you have written.  Once I finish a writing session, I mark any section I’m working on with “*** Start” in red and next time I work on the manuscript, use the Find key to locate it within the document.

            How long should chapters be?  Is there a standard length?  In memoir you don’t want chapters too short.  The reader might think:  “no substance,” too long and “you lost me.”  It is important to write clearly and offer insight to any actions or anecdotes.  

I have a lot to talk about trying to master French in five easy [??] semesters, what with writing French blogs, presentations, videos, and research papers.  [I still don’t have a firm grasp of the language, but don’t tell Penn.]  My problem is that 10,000 words is too long for a chapter, so I need to break it up.  But where?

Perhaps the chapter should divide between community college courses and university level courses.  The advanced projects above came into play at the University of Pennsylvania.  Maybe the break should come after the community college courses and the entrance exam to be placed into the university level courses and then the second French chapter could be how I survived learning French at Penn.  What do you think?  The important thing to remember about any chapter is that it contains substance and moves the plot forward.

            I have 59,624 words and one more chapter to write before I have a complete first draft, and only two weeks to do it in.  Then the class is over and my first draft should be complete.  It will be close.  Wish me luck! 

7 thoughts on “What to Write in Those Confounded Chapters”

  1. Thank you, Michelle and Ellen, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Your good wishes are greatly appreciated.

    My goal was to make readers a part of this process of trying to write the first draft of my college memoir. I agree, Ellen. The hardest part of any project is getting that first draft.

    Thanks again, ladies, for visiting my blog. Please stop by again.

  2. Good luck!! I'm there now, trying to write a first draft of a new novel. The only way I can think of it is to fill 400 pages with words going somewhere, (I write the first draft longhand), and then go from there. I very much identified with your post today.

  3. Good luck to you too, Karen. 400 pages of longhand?! The first draft, the general ideas of what happens first and then next, etc., can be the most difficult part. Thanks for taking some time out of your busy day to visit my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again!

  4. I love the title! Made me laugh. I don't outline. I normally just start and stop how it comes to me. Now I'm writing a middle grade and am forcing myself to do short chapters. I'm sure non-fiction is much different.

  5. Thank you, Theresa. The title of this post came to me as I was…well…trying to think what to write in my memoir chapters.

    I remember that you don't outline. Bravo for you, and good luck on your new middle grade story. Short chapters in middle grade make me think of one fully fleshed out scene or one action or problem happening to the protagonist.

    Non-fiction can also have short chapters, and again focus on one important action in the narrator's life. I think that this first draft of my college memoir will need to be subdivided into smaller chapters, especially when I fully flesh out certain anecdotes and scenes.

    Thank you so much, Theresa, for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again.


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