How to Write a Good Chapter

Since this is primarily a writing blog, I am excited to share an AMAZING writing website by the successful author, Vickie Britton.  She has all sorts of wonderful tips about writing a novel for publication.  I think so often, we all get so caught up in the writing itself that we forget to write for our audience, which is first and foremost, the agents and publishers.  If they are not captivated by our work, it will be rather difficult to share the story with the actual audience.  I hadn’t thought much about this before, but Ms. Britton shares great advice about the layout of the book – how many chapters, how many pages per chapter, etc.

Here is a summary of the post from here:

A chapter is like an episode from a continuing TV show. Each chapter should begin with some kind of action and end with a question to propel the reader onward.

-An average genre book has approximately 16-17 pages per chapter.

-A chapter should be just long enough to fully develop a scene.

-Each chapter should begin with a distinct scene…The scene’s job in a novel, much like a scene in a play, is to provide a setting and backdrop for the action that is unfolding right before the reader’s eyes.

-Each scene should ask a question to propel the reader forward in the story.

-Each chapter should center around one element or main event.

-The chapter should not answer its own question.  Instead, it should be answered in a following chapter to create suspense.

Tips for Developing a Strong Chapter

  • develop a strong scene by showing, not telling
  • add only the necessary characters to develop a scene
  • stick to the goal of the chapter
  • don’t get sidetracked by adding random scenes
  • end with a cliffhanger question

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

As a fellow writer, Gretchen Rubin offers a lot of great advice about starting a blog, the uncertainty she felt taking the plunge and leaving her job as a lawyer to become a writer, and several pearls of wisdom on motivation.

Now certainly, motivation is a problem we all face, especially as writers.  We all want to become writers, but not all of us are willing to commit to what it takes to be a writer.  Many of us, myself included, are easily caught up in the demands of every day life and allow it to take us away from our true passion, which is of course, writing.

To be a successful writer, Gretchen Rubin mentions, you have to actually like writing.  It has to make you happy.  Otherwise, you’ll have a problem sticking with it.  People who are happy with what they do find the time to actually do it and therefore, are more motivated and successful.

As part of her happiness project, the author decides to dedicate an entire year to not only making herself happier, but to finding out what exactly makes her happy.  She focuses on work for an entire month, sharing what she’s learned.  Here’s a summary of some of her excellent advice:

-Aim higher.

-Challenge yourself by committing to something and sticking to it.

-Work smarter by boosting your efficiency.

-Focus on “now” and allow yourself to enjoy it.

-Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice.

-“Enjoy the fun of failure.”

My favorite passage in the book?  One of her “Secrets of Adulthood”:

By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished.  We tend to overestimate how much we can accomplish in an hour or a week, and underestimate how much we can accomplish in a month or a year, by doing just a little bit each day. 

Reading her novel, The Happiness Project,  has really renewed my zeal for writing, and I thank her for that.  In addition, she offers a lot of great insight and tips on writing, finding a writing support group, and blogging.

If you’re looking for a book to boost your ambition and give you a kick in the pants, this might be a good one for you to read.  While the focus of the book is primarily the author’s search to define and find happiness, much of it is based around her life as a writer.  It doesn’t necessarily offer much on the craft of writing, but if you’re looking for a source of motivation, not only as a writer, but in your life in general, this will do the trick.

Books on Writing

Being a writer, I enjoy reading books on the craft of writing.  There are several that have really stuck out to me and have helped me tremendously with not only my own skills as a writer, but also with my motivation and inspiration.

Since every writer is a product of what they read, learn, and absorb, I’d like to share with you some of the knowledge and advice I’ve gained from other writers.  I hope this will help you as much as it’s helped me.

Write What Matters

If you don’t care about what you’re writing, neither will your readers.  This doesn’t mean you should take on only big subjects – war, peace, love, hunger, oppression.  It means that if what matters to you is the way the light falls on the bougainvillea in the morning, that’s what you should write about.  If what matters to you is the relationship between sisters and brothers, then that’s what you write about.

Write about what interests you, what you don’t understand, what you want to learn more about.  Novelist Amy Tan said, “I write about it [mothers and daughters] because I don’t understand it, because it is such a mystery to me.  If it ceases to be a mystery, and if I were an expert on it, I wouldn’t write about it.  I like to write about things that bother me in some way, that I have a lot of conflict with.”

Reread your writing to discover recurring themes and images.  Look for hints and innuendos within spontaneous or stream of consciousness writings.  If you’re bored with what you’re writing or lackadaisical about your commitment, return to the idea that birthed it.  More than one writer has been drawn off track by comments from her writing group or misdirection from a friend.  “Let nobody, your mother, your grandmother, your agent, your publisher, your producer, let nobody tell you the creator what you should do,” said Roots author Alex Haley, who invested twelve years in writing his life-changing book.

Be a passionate writer. – Judy Reeves

The Written Word

The written word preserves what otherwise might be lost among the impressions that inundate our lives.  Thoughts, insights, and perceptions constantly threaten to leave us before we have the opportunity to grasp their meaning.  Writing can keep technology-driven, fast-paced, quick-fix, ambiguity-intolerant modern life from overpowering us – and give us something palpable upon which to reflect.  Reflection slows matters down.  It analyzes what was previously unexamined, and opens doors to different interpretations of what was there all along.  Writing, by encouraging reflection, intensifies life.

– Helena Hjalmarsson

Original Detail

I’ve been reading  a lot of books on the craft of writing lately, perhaps as a way to inspire myself to become a better writer.  Throughout this journey, I have discovered a few authors who amaze me.  Natalie Goldberg is one of them.  Her book, Writing Down the Bones has such good advice and encouragement for all writers, not just beginners.  Here is a snippet about original detail.  It was too good to summarize, so I thought I’d share it with you:

Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else.  Even if you transplant the beveled windows, slow-rotating Rheingold sign, Wise potato chip rack, and tall red stools from the Aero Tavern that you drank in in New York into a bar in a story in another state and time, the story will have authenticity and groundedness.  “Oh, no, that bar was on Long Island, I can’t put it in New Jersey” – yes, you can.  You don’t have to be rigid about original detail.  The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness.  It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build…  Be awake to the details around you, but don’t be self-conscious.  “Okay, I’m at a wedding.  The bride has on blue.  The groom is wearing a red carnation.  They are serving chopped liver on doilies.”  Relax, enjoy the wedding, be present with an open heart.  You will naturally take in your environment, and later, sitting at your desk, you will be able to recall just how it was dancing with the bride’s redhead mother, seeing the bit of red lipstick smeared on her front tooth when she smiled, and smelling her perfume mixed with perspiration.

Guidelines For Writing Practice

We all know how important it is to practice your writing every day, or at least almost every day.  The author Judy Reeves has some great writing tips in her book Prompts and Practices.  Some of them are similar to things we’ve already talked about, but there are some new things, as well, and it offers great advice to all writers, whether you’re practicing or working on something.  Here they are:

  1. Keep writing.  Don’t stop to edit, to rephrase, to think.  Don’t go back and read what you’ve written until you’ve finished.
  2. Trust your pen.  Go with the first image that appears.
  3. Don’t judge your writing.  Don’t compare, analyze, criticize.
  4. Let your writing find its own form.  Allow it to organically take shape into a story, an essay, a poem, dialogue, an incomplete meander.
  5. Don’t worry about the rules.  Don’t worry about grammar, syntax, punctuation, or sentence structure.
  6. Let go of your expectations.  Let your writing surprise you.
  7. Kiss your frogs.  Remember, this is just practice.  Not every session will be magic.  The point is to just suit up and show up at the page, no matter what.
  8. Tell the truth.  Be willing to go to the scary places that make your hand tremble and your handwriting gets a little out of control.  Be willing to tell your secrets.
  9. Write specific details.  Your writing doesn’t have to be factual, but the specificity of the details brings it alive.  The truth isn’t in the facts; it’s in the detail.
  10. Write what matters.  If you don’t care about what you’re writing, neither will your readers.  Be a passionate writer.
  11. Read your writing aloud after you’ve completed your practice session.  You’ll find out what you’ve written, what you care about, when you’re writing the truth, and when the writing is “working.”
  12. Date your page and write the topic at the top.  This will keep you grounded in the present and help you reference pieces you might want to use in something else.

Resistance and Self-Doubt

Here’s another pearl of wisdom from Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art about resistance and self-doubt in writing:

Self-doubt can be an ally.  This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration.  It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it.  If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer?  Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident.  The real one is scared to death.


Here’s a quote from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield about resistance – one of the worst forms of procrastination:

If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet, no Golden Gate Bridge.  Defeating Resistance is like giving birth.  It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.

Take that, resistance.