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?