Pantsing and Chapters

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Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of advice on writing chapters. Go Teen Writers had a post on Monday on writing chapters 2 & 3. And today I stumbled across this blog post on how long chapters should be. Jody Hedlund’s blog post today also talks about jotting notes about each chapter when doing pre-writing plotting.

It made me realize that my method for chapters is strange.

I don’t have chapters in my first draft.

Weird, huh?

When I write the first draft, I just write. I put in asterisks for the scene breaks, but other than that the writing is in one big chunk. Sort of. I actually write in 25,000 word chunks. I focus on reaching 25,000 words, which seems a whole lot less daunting than 75,000 or 100,000. When I finish a draft, I then put all of the chunks together into one file.

It is only then that I go back and decide where the chapters fall.

My chapters might change even then. For Dare, my first pass resulted in 27 chapters. Once I started revising, I did a lot of cutting, revising of scenes, and even combining of scenes. I also realized that many of my chapters were too long with too many scenes per chapter.

By the time I finished revising my chapters, I’d come up with 45.

In the final revisions as I formatted Dare, I made a few more changes that resulted in 47 chapters in the final version.

This system works for me. It prevents me from being stuck on chapters while I’m writing. I write each scene to where it needs to be and put in chapters later.

But this wouldn’t work for everyone. One reason I think this works for me is that I’m something of a “pantser” when I write (someone who writes by the seat of their pants instead of plotting it out first).

I’m not what you’d call a pure pantser. I don’t sit down at the computer with no plan and just write and see where it leads. I think that is the stereotype of pantsers, but that makes it sound like we have no plan and no ideas in our head.

I have lots of ideas. I usually have whole scenes plotted out (complete with dialogue, body language, and scenery), arranged in a structure, and usually a beginning to get me started and an ending I’m working towards. I know what I need to foreshadow and when I need to add certain items into the story to set up later events. It’s just all in my head instead of on paper. I’ve tried plotting out before hand, but the only way to get what’s in my head onto paper is through writing the first draft.

Yes, I do have a lot of revision to do when I finish that first draft, but I speed through that first draft since I’m following the rough outline I have in my head.

But since it is a rough outline, I don’t have it laid out in chapters. I don’t have pages of notes that tell me that in chapter 1 this will happen. This happens in chapter 2, etc.

How do you guys handle chapters? Do you write with chapters or without? Does it play a role in how you plan? Do your chapters change during revision?


Posted in Writing Advice and tagged , , , , by with 19 comments.

Comments

  • Lauren says:

    I write with chapters, but it doesn’t really affect my writing at all. I write pretty much like you do – seat of the pants, but with a definite idea of where I’m really going. But I haven’t really noticed that chapters affect it that much at all.

  • Jesseca Dawn says:

    When I’m writing the first draft I never use chapters. When I go through it the second or third time, then I’ll add them. I don’t think it really affects how I plan since I never actually plan for chapters! I’ll just write using a space or asterisks for scene breaks then later I go through and figure out where I want the chapters. 🙂

  • tmorsecode says:

    I write with chapters, but they’re more of suggestions for breaks. I often go back and tinker with scenes and where chapters should end, but having smaller chunks initially helps revision not seem like such a monumental task (even though it still is). That’s a really interesting technique, though!

    • That’s neat how you look at chapters as suggestions. Sometimes when people get all freaked out about chapters, it’s probably because they are seeing them as something that can’t be changed once they are put in. Seeing them as suggestions makes them less scary.

      • tmorsecode says:

        Exactly — though I struggle with that problem with drafting in general, feeling like once I’ve written something, it’s in stone and I can never change it… even though I’m the one who wrote it. Quite an illogical problem.

  • That’s an interesting way to write. I do put in chapters in the first draft, but I primarily just put them in where it feels right. On my last one, I did have a goal of the chapters averaging 2,000 words, but it wasn’t a hard and fast rule, since some were significantly less and some were significantly more. Really, if it feels like a natural break, or like tying off the loose ends of a section, or setting up a chapter cliffhanger, I put in a break. But I don’t do a ton of planning. I have to have a basic idea of the storyline, basically the main plot points, but I can’t plot beyond that. I have to just let the story and the characters go where they want, though occasionally I will do slightly more planning when I come to a point where I’m completely lost as to what’s supposed to happen in this section.

    • Sounds like chapters are an instinctive thing. I do have a lot of times while writing when I’ll put in a scene break and make a mental note that when I revise, I’ll make that a chapter break.

  • I’m a pantser, but not the stereotypical like you said, but the kind that you are. I just can’t write out a plot, etc. on paper! Which drives my sister crazy! 🙂
    Sometimes I write with chapters, sometimes I don’t, it just all depends on the story and what I’m feeling like.

    • It drove me nuts in high school when we’d have to write a short story and our teacher would make us plot out each point. I’d have the idea all planned out in my head, so all I wanted to do was write.

      Each story is different. I read somewhere that you shouldn’t expect each draft to act the same as the last one because each one is a different book and a different story.

  • I’ve done this!! I do write chapters USUALLY, but I have had where I just feel constricted by them so I add them in later on – trying to make a small ‘cliffhanger’ at each end to keep it compelling. I’m a pantser too, usually, so it doesn’t often end up where I can do that the first time thru 😉

    • That’s why I usually leave chapters until later. I found putting chapters in later was easy when I looked back and found all the places where a scene naturally ended with a cliff hanger or compelling situation.

      I guess I do partially put in chapters. But it’s all in my head. I make mental notes on which scene breaks would make good chapter breaks.

  • Abby Cashen says:

    Wow! I’m so amazed to see so many other writers who write like this! I write exactly like you said but I do use chapters. I don’t really plan out how long or short a chapter should be, I just end one and start another where it feels right. Like you were saying, I’m horrible at planning things out on paper and am much better at sorting out my ideas by writing the first draft. Up until know, I hadn’t realized how many other people did that. So neat!

  • Claire B. says:

    I pants. 🙂 I write with chapters but I never plan them out. I usually make a new chapter when a major scene change happens, or I feel something needs to be broken up for dramatic effect. 😛 But usually my guiding factor is, “hey, I haven’t had a new chapter in a a few pages so I’ll stick a new one in”. lol!! It works for the most part, but I do have to do some revising as drafts go on.

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