29 November 2012

The Problem with Chapter Nine

If you’re like me (crazy), as you write your novel, each new chapter becomes your favorite one. I feel this is a good thing; at least on some level, this points to improvement in your draft. Either you’re enjoying the story more as you get into it, or you feel your writing is getting stronger as you go along. The only downside is that each new chapter has to live up to its predecessor. Not every chapter, or at least every scene, is always going to leave you on the edge of your seat. So what about those in between moments? What do you do when you have a scene that is entirely necessary to the plot, but just not that exciting?

I finished Chapter Eight of my novel about two months ago. While I certainly haven’t stopped writing since then, I just can’t bring myself to complete the next chapter. I’ve been writing random parts of the story—namely, the scenes that interest me. Because while I have the entire next chapter planned out, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s just not all that interesting. The logical step would be to cut it, right? Therein lies the other problem. Skipping to the next chapter would leave a gaping hole in the narrative. I guess the whole point to my book is to show the very slow progression of a relationship. In the next important scene, the characters are too close, too familiar with one another. They weren’t at this point at the end of Chapter Eight. So I still have to get them there.

I guess the problem with Chapter Nine is that nothing exciting or earth shattering happens. I’ve tried everything to spice it up—amusing dialogue, sexy make out scenes, etc., etc. But I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. How do you deal with this sort of downtime within your narrative? If you think about real life, obviously not every moment is exciting. In fact, excitement is rare. But you don’t want to bore your readers with the mundane everyday life. What’s the solution?

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you the solution. Well, obviously I don’t have it, or this chapter would be complete. But I do have some theories. An overly exciting book can be interesting, but exhausting (The Da Vinci Code comes to mind, where every two page chapter ends with a cliffhanger). But on the flip side, a book where nothing happens will never keep the reader’s attention. Forgive me for the most extreme of clichés, but you should treat your narrative like a roller coaster. There are the moments that build up with suspense, the high points that are intense and exciting, and then the low moments that come in between. If you need a slow moment in your book, the most important thing to consider is what purpose it serves. Does it help the reader recover from an intense scene that happened before? Is it building up to the next one? What are we learning about the characters?

So far my plan of action has been to skip ahead. There’s an important scene in Chapter Ten that I’ve almost completed. Once it’s done, I’ll look back, see what’s missing from the end of Chapter Eight until this particular moment. What needs to be said or done to get my characters to this point? Then what’s important—what’s necessary, even—will be much clearer. If Chapter Nine ends up being a short chapter, then that’s all right, if that’s what it needs to be. It’s important to listen to your narrative; sometimes it will tell you what it needs. 


  1. I would suggest trying to look at the scene like a silent movie and make what they do (rather than what they say or think) interesting in its own right. That way dialogue can add to it or maybe contrast to it. works for me (sometimes).

    Moody Writing

  2. Three words (and you know what I'm about to say)
    The Second Head. I said this as a joke whenever someone said they had writer's block as a joke but the principle of having a character "grow a second head" does jump start character development (times two I suppose)and progressing the plot. It could be something far less extreme (which might be best) but adding an obtuse that when the characters had to interact to it on their "stage", it will be telling and its very existence, as obtuse as a second head, or as everyday as a glass left broken in a sink, muddy shoes left at the doorway on a sunny afternoon, or even the presence on an unopened letter on a desk that wasn't there the day before, can fill the quiet lulls.
    As a lover of over-used metaphors I will say, remember what is thrilling about the lows of a roller coaster is that you are anticipating the next hill just ahead.

  3. @mooderino: That's an interesting idea. I usually work the opposite way, starting with the dialogue and then building from there. I'll have to give it a shot.

    @Stacey: Jordan is just begging me to crack a rather nasty joke about the second head, but I'll resist...I actually came up with a little something extra for this chapter after posting last night. It's something that becomes more important as the book goes on, and something the narrator didn't realize about himself until someone else told him. So, strangely enough, I think it fits with your suggestion.