Class Notes October 9, 2019

A book worth adding to your library as a writer! It’s in mine.

Today we talked about chapter length, writing chapter 2, and the difference between showing and telling. We also talked about the narrative arc.

The notes will not be exactly the same as those given in class, but they will have the same content. Note the URLs given for more on the topics.

Chapter length: Most agree that under 1,000 words would be rather short and that over 5,000 might be rather too long. As a general guideline, chapters should be between 3,000 to 5,000 words. All of them agree that the chapter length should be defined by the story and that any chapter length targets you decide on are merely guidelines.  From

Writing Chapter 2: Developing your opening hook

The opening chapter of a book needs to hook your reader. How? By creating intrigue, suspense, lovable (or at least compelling) characters and interesting setting or action. Writing chapter one is a challenge, yet for many authors writing chapter two is the stumbling block – how can you develop further?

1. Expand or complicate your story’s inciting incident. The inciting incident or ‘call to adventure’ is the action or scenario that sets your story in motion. Think about how you can broaden or complicate the initial situation to bring in other characters, for example, with their own motives and desires.

2. Decide where your second chapter should start. Look at the opening of your first chapter. What is the biggest unanswered question? Some ways you could begin chapter 2:

  • A change of POV: Describe what another character is going through, in an arc linked to the scenario in your first chapter (for example, perhaps a junior scientist wants to stop the experiment at all costs due to valid fears)
  • A change of setting: If there’s a second location as important as your first, you could show the additional tensions or complications here.
  • A new complication: If a character has a difficult goal in chapter 1, what could make attaining this goal harder? Begin chapter 2 with this complication for immediate suspense

3. Answer some unknowns and create new ones. Plot is, essentially, the progression of old unknowns being answered and new or related unknowns emerging. By concealing some information – You can build suspense. Create new questions, such as ‘what will happen now that …, ?

Think of questions you created in your first chapter. What can Chapter 2 answer to keep the story developing? What aspects can you delay revealing to keep your reader interested?

4. Introduce characters key to primary characters’ arcs. When you’re stuck on chapter 2, it’s sometimes because you haven’t thought further about your ensemble characters. Secondary characters who will help – or hinder – your main characters’ progress towards their goals.

5. Hint at how the tensions chapter 1 introduces will unfold. We often talk of ‘foreshadowing’ in storytelling, yet you don’t have to bluntly tell the reader ‘Little did she know that [x would happen]’. Foreshadowing, hinting at what comes next, can be as simple as returning to the preoccupations of the first chapter, for example, and showing that they have not yet been resolved.

Where Should a Second Chapter Start?

1.  At the time and place of the ending of chapter one—but with a twist.

2.  With the introduction of a new character, a new scene, an unrelated threadDon’t give the reader what he expects. Do keep him entertained. It’s okay to turn your back on what happened in the last chapter. Don’t worry about connections between the two chapters and events. You have plenty of time to fill in the blanks later.

3.  With that flashback that you really wanted to use to open chapter one. If you have to have one—and do you?—use it in chapter two to slow the tension-inducing action you introduced at the end of the first chapter. First chapters are for the now of stories. The before stuff can come after that first introduction to your characters and plot.

4.  With dialogue. Go from the inner thought of your lead character at the end of the first chapter to dialogue. Let the reader hear someone’s voice.

5.  With the unexpected. You don’t want your readers feeling too comfortable. Start your second chapter with spice or delight or fun. Write action. Write dialogue. Slow the pace or speed the pace.  Make chapter two even more interesting than chapter one.

After the invitation of chapter one, draw the reader deeper into your fiction. Give him a reason to stay.

The following is from

What is a narrative arc? Narrative arc is a term that describes a story’s full progression. It visually evokes the idea that every story has a relatively calm beginning, a middle where tension, character conflict, and narrative momentum builds to a peak, and an end where the conflict is resolved.

Ultimately, you’ve got three acts to tell your story.

  • In Act One, you set the scene and introduce your audience to the characters, the setting, and the seeds of conflict.
  • In Act Two, your characters grow and change in response to conflicts and circumstances. They set about trying to resolve the Big Problem. Usually, the conflict will escalate to a climax.
  • In Act Three, characters resolve the Big Problem and the story ends.

What’s the difference between a narrative arc and a plot? While the plot is comprised of the individual events that make up your story, your story arc is the sequence of those events.

 Imagine every scene of your novel summarized on notecards: the entire stack of cards is your plot, but the order in which you lay them out is your story arc.

If the plot is the skeleton of your story, the narrative arc is the spine. It’s the central through-line marking the plot’s progress from beginning to end.

How about the character arc? The narrative arc is to the story what the character arc is to a character. It involves the plot on a grand scale, and a character arc charts the inner journey of a character over the course of the plot.

Another straightforward distinction: while the story arc is external, the character arc is internal, and each main (and sometimes secondary) character will go through an individual arc

Exposition The de-facto introduction to your book, the exposition is Act One of the story arc.

You’re setting the table in the exposition: starting the story, bringing out your characters, setting up the seeds of conflict, and imparting just enough background information to keep the reader clued in on what’s occurring in the story.

Here’s a brief overview of what else the reader should be able to extract from the exposition of your story

  • The characters. Who’s in the cast of characters? How can you differentiate among them?
  • The setting. Where does your story take place? Don’t forget that setting includes time — when does your story take place? What time period?
  • The mood. How will you set the tone of the novel in the exposition? A romance that suddenly goes sideways due to an alien invasion is going to confuse readers and cloud your book’s genre classification.

A word of caution: remember Show, Don’t Tell — and don’t mistake “exposition” for “info dump.”

A Quick Definition

Show, don’t tell is a writing technique in which story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition or telling. It fosters a style of writing that’s more immersive for the reader, allowing them to “be in the room” with the characters.

In short: showing illustrates, while telling merely states. Here’s a quick example of showing versus telling:

Showing: As his mother switched off the light and left the room, Michael tensed. He huddled under the covers, gripped the sheets, and held his breath as the wind brushed past the curtain.

Telling: Michael was terribly afraid of the dark.  In the “showing” example, rather than merely saying that Michael is afraid of the dark, we’ve put him in a situation where his experience of that fear takes center stage. The reader can deduce the same information they’d get from the “telling” example but in a much more compelling way.

The assignment for this next week is to write a second chapter. Think about what has been revealed in chapter 1, the crumbs you have left there to draw the reader on. Pick up some of those crumbs so that you can answer some of the questions they have raised. Then as you use vivid words or dialogue to continue the story, to paint the action, keepyour reader wanting more.

See you next week!!

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