In the way that I design my stories, I want every chapter to have a purpose, to have its own spotlight, its own conflict and drama. I refer to this as the chapter’s “inner story”. While chapters are the framework of a story, I argue that a chapter is more than just a mechanism of format.
Too many times I’ve read chapters where the only purpose they served was to describe time pass as the protagonist went from A to B. If you find yourself writing a chapter that really lacks a prominent point, then most likely, your readers will think that the pace of your story will slow. This can be prevented if the author focuses on developing the mini-story within each chapter. Sometimes we authors are too close to notice it. Usually, one would have to take a step back from their writing and think like a critic in order to realize it, but I believe I’ve found a better way.
It’s one thing for an author to outline their story from start to finish. But it’s another if the author can take the planning to another level of granularity by architecting the framework of each chapter. Just describe the key story element for each chapter so they each drive toward a distinct purpose that supports the flow of the overall story. I’m convinced that this approach prevents pace & flow issues, generates more memorable qualities throughout your story, and keeps readers engaged. These key story elements can be:
- Events that motivate your protagonist, such as the 12 steps of a hero’s journey
- Events that force your characters into a certain decision
- Chapters that revolve around your theme
- Critical moments of character maturity (for coming-of-age type stories)
- A new mini-conflict is introduced (that supports the overall story) and must be resolved
If you interested in giving this a shot, try out this exercise. Review your outline (hopefully it’s structured so you have some idea of what’s happening in each chapter) and write a synopsis of each chapter. Are all of your synopses exciting or intriguing? Do they serve a purpose in your story? If you can’t summarize your chapter by describing its reason for existence in an exciting/intriguing manner, then that chapter should be analyzed until its “inner-story” is found.
Here’s another way to look at it: If the reader could only sum up each chapter with one sentence, what would be the dramatic or exciting key story element that you’d want them to takeaway from it?
How do you outline your story? Do you think this technique could work for you? Let me know your thoughts.