How to Decide the Chapter Length in Fiction

Hi folks!

We authors often face doubts in our ability. The best writers would rather hide their manuscript in the drawer than bear the criticism. So it takes guts to share our creation with the world. We doubt everything. Even things we know. So it always helps to go over writing craft tips again and again.

One question that every one of us wonders one time or another is how long should we keep the chapters. We don’t want to break off in the middle of the scene and neither do we want an unending chapter which leaves the reader word-breathless. Let’s go over which factors are important in deciding the chapter length in fiction.

Genre: This is the most important factor which counts in my opinion. If you’re writing a thriller, you want pace and action. Short chapters, especially with terse headings indicating time and/or place lend speed to the story and make the reader turn the pages faster. This adds buzz to the reading. So limit your chapters to 1000 to 1500 words if you write a mystery.

On the other hand, if you’re writing literary fiction, you want to hold the reader’s hand and guide them through life’s unraveling truths. In this case, long chapters, possibly even without section breaks are better. The flow of the writing keeps going inexorably and the reader wants to absorb the words rather than skip through the pages. Here chapters can be 5000 words and your reader won’t mind.

Change of setting/Time elapse: If you change the setting or your character moves to a different place or if you jump to another time, then it’s better to start a new chapter. This will tell your reader that a change in place or time is indicated.

POV: This is important but at the same time also a matter of choice. You should ideally have one POV per chapter. In romance genre, if you write for both protagonists, then you can alternate between each. But you shouldn’t make it a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it wouldn’t suit your story to have a particular scene in that character’s POV, whose turn has come up. Then feel free to break the rule. Even so, try to have a section break to show that the point of view has changed or you can be accused of head hopping.

These are the most important things to consider in my view. What do you consider the most important factor while deciding chaper length? Do share in the comments.

For most writing tips, check out my Helpful Tips for Writers publication, Conflict in Fiction available as Amazon kindle edition at only 99 cents. In this booklet, you will find how to build conflict and how to categorize conflict in your fiction work. A special section for conflict in romance fiction is included.

Click here to buy:

How to Boost Your Word Count #Nanowrimo #Nanowrimo2017

Nanowrimo or the National Novel Writing Month is in full swing. Everywhere online, you hear word counts approaching ten, twenty, thirty, thousand words or even above that till your head spins how to churn out words fast enough to meet the high standard. But staring at your screen or binging on coffee isn’t going to achieve that (second thoughts, binging on coffee might!)

Anyway, here are a few ways to improve your output.

Focus on interaction:

Don’t delay, wasting time setting up your story or obsessing about research. Get your characters interacting. Which is the scene when two opposing forces come face to face? Three chapters down? Don’t wait for it, bring it out right now. The more interested you are in your book, the faster the words will flow.

Don’t plan:

Not the story. You should plan the story, because you want to see where you’re going (unless you’re a pantser) What I mean is, don’t plan how many words you will write today. Better think, I will write three scenes or still better, today Christine will go about her day and experience three things that will make her change her mind about changing her career. And so on and so forth. When you aim to get to a story point, you feel energized and motivated.

Writing sprints:

This is the best part about Nanowrimo. You can join in writing sprint – set a time period and find friends to write for that time. Then compare. Healthy competition is good for words.

So, to sum up, write about conflicts and showdowns, don’t obsess about the word count and join in writing sprints. Here’s to a successful Nanowrimo for us all.

If you feel like a break in this stressful time, (this is me, indulging in a bit of shameless promo) feel free to check out my latest romance novel, Last Man She’d Love.

Blurb:

He’s flirty…she’s cool…both are fighting an irresistible attraction

Lyna finds herself caught in a situation where she has to break her engagement. Next thing, she’s asking her oh-so-attractive boss Guy for help. With his breezy charm, he succeeds in turning every woman in his radius to putty- except her. Why did she get involvedwith him? 

Last Man She’d Love is a kindle bestseller. Right now it’s a bargain at 25% off.

Check it out at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07475QM2N 

Getting back to writing 

All writers feel a passion to write. But sometimes, a writer may get distanced from writing. It may be due to life getting busy, or that certain spark going missing in writing. Writer’s block can grow into a boulder sized obstacle that supresses creativity and makes the writer cringe from penning words. It may be due to a novel that putsthe author into conflict. One doesn’t know how to proceed further and yet cannot take up anything new.

Here are a few ways to get back into the stream when you have left the tide. When you finally have time and leisure, or are mentally ready to write again, what can you do to help you along? Especially when your novel has became that elephant in the room, forcing you to pay attention.

1. Set up a routine.

This is difficult because your routine so far has been writing free. You may rather wander around virtually in the social media. Your friends may miss your presence. Your family may have got used to have you wait on them (all too easy to let them, especially if you are a woman). What you need to do is take a hard look at your schedule and make a time slot and whether you are productive or not, let that time stand.

2. Make a writing corner.

A place for writing is not absolutely necessary if you are into the flow. When the characters start talking, you can write even in the dentist’s waiting room. But during initial return phase, you may need seclusion and focus, both of which can be found in your special writing place. It can be just a small desk in the corner or it can be a proper office, but do create that zone which will tell your subconscious loud and clear that you mean business.


3. Reread your last wip without bias.

From startbto the point you’re done, reread your work in progress. Make notes but don’t change anything. Make a list of the characters in your story. Give some time and thought to each of these and see if they are well etched or need to be more three dimentional. Write a random piece of dialogue between them and see if your creativity wakes up. Maybe soon you’ll be involved in them and getting back to writing. 

So, find the time and the zone and take a deep breath and open the dreaded file. I think opening the file, whether hard or soft copy, is half the battle. Once you start, maybe you’ll recapture that moment which made you start this particular piece and find the core of the story that can provide the drive to your writing. Here’s to finding that lost touch and getting back to writing! *raises tea cup* Who knows your finished bestseller is just waiting to unfold.

Guest post: Challenges I faced in Writing

I’m sharing an excerpt from the guest post at Surbhi Sareen’s blog about the challenges I faced during my writing journey.
……………
Thank you for hosting me at your blog, Surbhi. Today I would like to talk about the challenges faced by writers.

Writing is the process of translating thoughts and images in your mind to the keyboard or the paper as the case may be. In as much, it looks to be a fairly simple process. But when you are writing fiction, those images and thoughts have to follow a particular cadence. They have to be woven into the pattern of logic and sequence. Ask any writer and they will tell you, writing – serious writing – is the hardest thing to do, especially over long periods.

Let me take you through the challenges I have faced as a writer. Let me know if they resound to you.

Initial stages:
When I first thought about writing and ventured to write, I often found this question staring at me in the face and echoing in my ears. Why are you stuck to the keyboard? I had no idea that taking a character through internal monologue could take up a WHOLE EVENING! My family was often exasperated at the amount of time I spent on writing. Their expressions conveyed that they thought I was wasting my time. Their attitude changed with time, but starting out that was a big hurdle to face. I couldn’t explain that the problems of the characters had become more important than the mundane chores of daily routine. Try saying that aloud and you’ll get the idea. We writers live so much in our heads that it takes time to unwrap our concerns from fiction and transfer them to fact. Unfortunately, people around us have no idea what we’re going through. However, I stuck with it, formed a sort of writing routine, disciplined myself not to let writing encroach on family time and eventually they realised writing was here to stay.

During the learning curve of discovering writing was not just art, but also craft, I learnt about:

Grammar
Characters’ motivation.
Realistic setting.
Convincing villains or indeed any secondary characters.
Am I riveted to and surprised by this story?
You might take a note of these things as a checklist for your book.

During the publishing journey:

Like every new writer, I had some vague idea that finishing a book was all that was required to become an author. This was dispelled rapidly when I clicked the submit button and offers of raving publishers failed to materialize. Rejection. Just that word is enough to set up any writer’s back. When we can see the gold in our work, why are the publishers so oblivious to it? It took some attempts to finally have it sink in that finishing a manuscript is just the beginning. Getting published was a real and Avenger style seemingly implausible hurdle. Eventually, I hit upon bright times. I gained a lot of experience. It is not wrong when they say, the failures are those who give up. When you stick to it, the breakthrough comes to you. However, at every step, a steep learning curve awaits you. During this process, I learnt three things:

Contracts are never fair to the writer.
They are not that unfair once you get used to it.
You have to decide what you want out of your writing career: i) Money ii) satisfaction of being published iii) independence to make your decisions regarding your work.
Writing is best regarded as a hobby, not a profession.
Above evaluation is subject to change.
Those are quite hard lessons to learn. But as they say, what doesn’t put you off, you makes you better. Well, they don’t say it. I do J

After getting published:

I’m sure most writers can’t figure out why they are compelled to write. There is just an internal drive. Sometimes it can fade out when the rush of everyday life takes over but it comes back before long. Publishers only accept a handful of submissions depending on the ‘brand’ that they are maintaining. So self publishing makes a lot of sense. However, before stepping into it, it’s essential to review the pointers above.

Once I had taken the decision to self publish, it still didn’t hit until much later how much work was to be done. In self publishing, you are on your own. So, that was really exhilarating in a sense because, well, you OWN your book, blurb, font size, cover and what not! Then it slowly began to sink in that I’d have to work and build these things. And build them to a standard competitive to the publishers’. I was staunchly fixed on one decision. I wasn’t going to splash a lot of money on writing. I had no idea what kind of returns there would be, so lean spending seemed a sensible option. I bought least cost pictures, got hold of free cover maker software and took the plunge. After two months, I was seeing money. It seemed pretty unbelievable at first but gradually, the steady trickle became an accepted fact. However, the moment I relaxed my hold and stopped looking at numbers, the sales fell. It sank in that I was losing writing time because I had to take care of spreading the word about my books.

Marketing

Let me not even touch the subject of marketing. It’s a writing time eating insect which throws you into a perplexing soap opera of doubts. If you are a relatively introvert type like me, you don’t want to have to do anything with it. However, unless you have written just to get rid of the story in your brain with no desire to reach anybody, you want your book to be seen. I heard and absorbed terms like platform, social media, promotions, blog tours. Took quite a while getting used to, I can tell you.
Read the rest of the post at:
https://captivatingmode.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/challenges-i-faced-in-writing/

How to write a romance novel for Camp Nanowrimo

Piyusha Vir wrote this lovely post about her difficulties in attempting Camp Nanowrimo. For the uninitiated, Camp Nanowrimo is  a virtual writers’ camp where you can set a target and push yourself to achieve it. Piyusha wants to write 10,000 words, but wants to know how to pen a romance novel during Camp Nanowrimo. You can read her list of queries here:
https://wanderingsoul2015blog.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/how-do-i-write-a-novel/

Piyusha, thanks for tagging me to answer your queries. Since your questions were too numerous to be answered in a simple comment box, here’s my response in the form of a blog post:

Don’t chain together incidents without theme.

A novel is not a running commentary of various incidents. The point of a story is not that protagonist has to get from point A to point B. Well, it can be a useful instrument to form the setting of your story. Eg the hero and the heroine are both going to visit La Tomatina festival and for various reasons have to travel together. In a romance novel, it can serve to bring the characters in enforced propinquity, but beyond that, you cannot use this premise. Neither can you just have your character move from an event like attending a concert to another of attending a wedding. You can have these, but only if these situations serve a  purpose in your story and move it forward. Eg did she see the hero’s ex at the concert and begin to feel insecure? Did he attend the wedding and learn from a relative that she’d had a terrible year because her parents died in an accident?
As your story progresses, the theme tying all the incidents should become clear. What is your story about? In the above example, you could make your theme about redemption. Did the heroine break law when she was angry about losing her parents? Has she since then carved a new and better life for herself?

No lengthy description of the mundane 
Your second query is: do I describe every (boring) detail in the story?
Answer: You don’t have to describe everything. In fact, you should stay away from making that mistake.
A novel has limited number of pages and readers have limited attention span. If you describe every mundane thing, it will waste story pages and annoy your reader. We know how people get ready. You don’t need to describe every act your protagonist goes through to reach the place of action. So, if she’s meeting the hero, it would be sufficient to mention she reached there. Did she take the trouble to do her hair? Was he straightening his tie as she walked towards him? That is useful because it conveys the state of the mind of the character. Otherwise, skip the mundane descriptions.

Don’t add details irrelevant to the story

You shouldn’t mention anything that doesn’t add to the story.
A bird chirping in the distance. Now, that is a natural thing to notice, but in your story you have to add detail only when it brings out emotions and reactions of your characters. Eg your hero is about to stand for elections and receives the  shocking news about the heroine’s unsavory past. Picture him focusing on periphery rather than his own pain and conflicted emotions. Does he hear the chirping of the bird because his own world has come to a standstill? Now the little detail serves to add impact to your story.

Confusing character and characterization:

The query was, “My character can’t go from being carefree and confident in the first part of the story to someone who is always anxious and needs re-assurance in the second part.”
Answer: You don’t change who your character is at the core. The story follows the arc of the character’s journey. The GMC should be clearly delineated. The character in your story has a goal, motivation, conflict. By the end, they may change their goal and hence motivation and resolve the conflict. In a romance, that’s how they find a HEA. In the above example, the hero might find he doesn’t really want to contest elections if he has to give up the heroine. Thus, the motivation to act in the way he has been acting, is now gone.

hcd-cover.jpg.jpg         aar-cover.jpg.jpeg        mtjd-cover.jpeg.jpeg

Romances have a common storyline. Or do they?
Romances have been done before. That doesn’t mean a new story has no freshness about it. When you write a romance, you have to focus on what’s special about your story. What is standing in the way of your protagonists and how they will overcome the issues between them? What twists or self revelations will landmark your characters’ way to finding their HEA? A happy ending is a must for a romance and it’s the author’s job to make it convincing, despite all the odds that have been presented in the book.
Btw the above plot is a budding idea of a new book. Hope you found the example helpful.
Keep writing and good luck for Camp Nanowrimo!

GUEST POST: 5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER WRITE A HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Here’s an excerpt from my guest post over at romance thriller author Aarti V Raman’s blog:

I feel I should make it clear that the key word here is not romance but historical.

Don’t take it the wrong way. I love everything to do with dates. I find delving into the dark mysteries of bygone times, intriguing. The prospect of tracing long lost footprints through the lens of my imagination is nothing short of magic to me. But having written and published two historicals, after one very rudimentary effort earlier on, I feel I can talk about writing historical romance with some assurance and I’m pretty sure all historical authors will agree with what I’m saying here.

Why shouldn’t you write a historical?

1. This is something you don’t realize until you actually begin to describe a scene properly in your story. This is especially true if you’re writing fiction set in the ancient world or –like me – in the early middle ages. It starts with an innocent looking gesture you want your character to make. Your hero is holding a drink in his hand… wait, you ask yourself, did they drink back then? Off you go to research wines and after poring through the material available – which consists of researching wine making to its roots and the exact method of preparation of mead – you can finally nod in satisfaction, ah yes, they did.

Wait, you say again, after typing not more than half a word. Would a king have a different sort of alcohol from a commoner? What sort of vessel did they use anyway? Glass, clay or gold? What was the shape of these vessels?

So you see, you can forget about the story. It will take you the whole day just to get that one gesture right.

2. Consider this. At a point in the story, I had to find if my hero could get on a trading ship in order to pilfer it (he sort of needed to) so just in case I had to mention the area etc., I decided to look up the maritime history of the Middle Ages. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I found! Did you know that the ancient ships in India were built without using nails because it was believed the iron immersed in water could be dangerous for the construction?

Trade was rife because of silk and spices produced in the region. Cargo weighing several  was transported – as much as 75 or maybe even more. Even elephants could be transported by sea route. In fact, there are records of transporting rhinoceros and elephants to China by those ships. The more I read, the more fascinating it got. In the ancient times, the trade with the Romans was so flourishing that Roman gold to the tune of 1000,000 pounds found its way into India annually…!

At this time I glance absently at the time – oh my God three hours have gone by! My writing time has evaporated into a thin mist and my WIP reproachfully at me, demanding what has all that got to do with me?

Take it from me, it’s way too hard to stick to just writing when you are working on fiction of the times of yore.

3. Another reason why you should spare yourself the persistent pain of penning a historical is the confusion surrounding ancient history. The more you dig the facts, the more you find them contradicting your earlier findings.

In one instance I had to refer to the humble beginnings of ancient emperor Chandragupta Maurya. There are multiple theories of his origins. Some medieval theorists say he was the son of a Nanda emperor, the lineage which he later defeated. Some ancient texts maintain that he was of a small Kshatriya, warrior, clan. A popular belief holds he was raised by peacock-tamers while it is even postulated that he was the grandson of a peacock-tamer. Which version would the reader find most believable? The process leaves you stymied.

4. Let me not even mention the parlance you unconsciously pick up…

Read the rest at:
https://aartivraman.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/guest-post-5-reasons-why-you-should-never-write-a-historical-romance/

Short story – a craft in itself

When we say short story what is the length of the work of fiction do we refer to? In current times, it should be 1000 to 20,000 words or 5 to 20 pages. However, magazines and contests usually demand 2000-5000 words. So that has become a more popular length.

While in a novel, a writer has time and space to build the characters, setting and the course of story, in a short piece this luxury is denied. One has to bring the focus of readers quickly to the story idea and hold their attention while still delivering a satisfying conclusion. So what things should be kept in mind while writing short stories?

First thing, is to have short, pithy descriptions so that excessive words are not wasted. For example, instead of describing in vivid detail a sunset, one might say simply ‘the sun crept past the horizon, splashing peach hues across the sky.’ While describing a character, instead of giving too many details, stick to one or two important characteristics. ‘An old and bent figure shuffling along’ this gives as much impression as ‘the thin man walking with painful slowness looked shrunken. His back was curved with the burden of age…’ you get the idea. A short story isn’t the place to wax poetic about your ability for description.

The second thing to be careful about is the theme or the idea your story centers on. Choose one and one idea only for one story. Keep it limited to one incident if possible. You cannot fit a long timeline into a story with effectiveness. It may be done but for shorter length, immediate effects and consequences work better. Give your character one problem and center the story around that. It may be resolved or not but it should say something about your story world and character. Too many threads will act as too many spices in a dish and will spoil the art.

Remember even if the length is short, you must not sacrifice the depth of your main character for it. You have to still know your character inside out. So do work on your character. Her past and present. Her hopes and dreams. The more you know your character, the more depth you can bring to your story.

In a story, the final punch is important. So try to achieve a revelation in your ending. Something the reader wants to find out and will race to the end to get. The denouement. The realization. The hit or miss of the goal you have set at the beginning.

For example, in the short story I wrote for Harper Collins India, the heroine Raina finds herself being ignored by her busy neurophysician husband. So, her goal is to find her sense of worth and be appreciated. Can she find those goals with him or someone else? What twists and turns occur before she reaches an important conclusion in her life is the subject of this short read called ‘Right or Wrong.’ It is set to be released in an anthology very soon!

Remember short descriptions, a singular theme, strong characters and tight conclusion. These ingredients and your particular spice, your writing, will help you stir up a savoury and sweet short story dish!