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Focus

Let’s talk about chapter focus. I am no expert, as I’m only a lowly indie which means that my words are meaningless because they are unvetted.

But let’s talk about your chapters. Each chapter is a mini book in and of itself. It serves a function, and when that function is complete, the chapter is complete. Therefore, it can be any size in length. You’re going to want an opener (goal in mind), a rising action, and then a cliff-hanger ending for the chapter (to help drag the reader along to the next chapter).

No matter the information you want to convey in the chapter, it MUST tie into the first opening.

let’s say you have a character called Nancy, she’s 40-ish, she works as a school nurse, she’s never had a real boyfriend and she’s rather shy. She’s now at a bank robbery.

None of that info is related. AT ALL. That’s not bad, but you don’t want to jump in there and give us her info bare, and then the scene. That’s how data dumps are made. So how do you tie in the key info with the scene and keep the pace and tension?

You pepper it in.

A man in a ski mask barked, “Hit the ground!”
Nancy did just that. At forty, her knees weren’t what they used to be, but as someone with a gun entered the bank, she cared less about how she’d get up, and more about not being dragged along as a human shield.
As the sirens closed in, she covered her head. Her heart pounded. One pop punctuated the air and then a body collapsed to the floor.
It landed right in front of her. As she stared into the dead eyes behind the mask, her life flashed before her eyes.
And it was all rather disappointing.
Fifteen years as a school nurse…rendered meaningless now.
What did she have to show for it? Never daring to do anything, be with anyone.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Broken glass danced along the floor. She turned onto her side and crouched up into a ball. If she got out of this, she would give Stewart another chance. She’d take that trip to Fiji, she’d even bunji-jump. God, let her make it out of this alive.

I wrote this on the fly and it’s perhaps a poor example, but the information can go with the action, with the scene, not ‘pause’ and given.

Compare it to:

Nancy was forty-three, a school nurse, and painfully shy and reserved.
A man in a ski mask barked, “Hit the ground!”

When you give exposition to the reader, it will STOP all action. It’s as if the characters all froze mid-motion and are letting you tell the story around them. We don’t want that unless it’s a life changing situation or an epiphany.

You could leave a cliffhanger for that scene by maybe having Nancy grab a gun, jump up, and shoot one of the bank robbers point blank. (end scene).

The second example is common, it’s also the reason why ‘was‘ raises red flags. If you’re not sure if you’ve got a data dump or a clumsy sentence. If you say something like, “He was six-foot-three with blue eyes,” then you could have done it smoother. Unless you’re making a statement (try doing it in threes), “He was six-foot-three, blue eyed, and my next biggest mistake.” etc. etc. otherwise, just putting it there to describe the character… that’s a bit flat.

He walked in, his toned six-foot-three figure towering over nearly everyone there. Tight jeans hugged strong thighs and Nancy nearly fainted when he turned to order a drink and she could see him from behind.

Now we know Nancy is a horny pervert, and the guy is hot. Make your words count, and make every scene do double-duty (moving the plot, but fleshing out the characters).