When it comes to novel writing, each scene is about moving the plot. Every chapter should play its part in keeping the story moving; be it through action, character progression, revelation, or added suspense/mystery. It can be tempting, when we love our characters, to fill in their backstory, fluffy side plots, or general information and descriptions. But you must stop and consider whether a chapter actually serves a purpose, or you will slow the pace of your plot and potential bore your readers!
I came to the end of a chapter I’m editing recently, and asked myself, ‘does anything actually happen here?’ The fact that came to mind told me something needed to be fixed. So, I’m sharing some things you can consider, to ensure your chapters are moving your story forward.
A bit obvious, perhaps, but this is the simplest way to get an idea of the chapter, and the first step to identifying any problems. Just read it through, and consider to yourself, what happens? If you aren’t certain, if you can’t pinpoint a plot point, then your scene either needs to be deleted or heavily edited. Be honest with yourself, sometimes it’ll be boring, and sometimes you have to kill your darlings.
There are questions you can ask yourself when editing a scene/chapter. Is there a sense of place? Can you really see the characters, do they leap off the page? Does this chapter answer a question, or pose a new one? Does this scene show the reader vital character information, a hint or red herring, an important clue, or an essential moment of action? And of course, the question mentioned above, the one I keep going back to. What happens?
Take it out
Ouch! A horrid one, but give it a go. Take out the chapter. Then re-read the chapters either side, and be honest. Does it change things? Is it really a great loss to the plot? If not, it’s not needed. Important tip; save the written scene elsewhere, in a separate document! Don’t delete it completely. Either you’ll find out you do need the scene, or at least aspects of it, or you’ll simply want to keep it because its yours and you wrote it. You may have to kill your darlings sometimes, but you can keep the remains…(that sounds dark, sorry!)
It can be hard criticising your own work. We writers can become too attached to moments in the story, or we can be too hard on ourselves. Seek feedback, from a critique partner or beta reader. Ask them if they think the scene in question did anything for the plot, for the story, for their experience as a reader. It can be more insightful to gain an outside perspective on the matter.
How do you ensure your chapters offer something to the story? If you have any tips, drop them in the comments below.