Writing a novel can sometimes feel like constructing a 50,000-piece puzzle.  All the elements are laid out before you, but the challenge to assemble and finish it can seem like a monumental task.  Even when you think pieces are coming together, you can quickly realize that a cluster of pieces doesn’t fit how you thought they would.

You might come across this problem while writing.  You’re working on a chapter, but something isn’t working.  The pieces of your chapter aren’t melding together the way you want them to.  

Today, we’ll discuss this problem, how to work through it, and ways to help improve the chapter and get you moving forward.

Let’s talk about it!

What’s the Point?

When you realize a chapter has a problem, take a step back and ask yourself what the intent of the chapter is.  Does the chapter introduce or add to a current conflict or storyline?  Does it enhance the reader’s knowledge about the characters?  Does the chapter set up or pay off story elements?  Is the reader learning anything new that will help them understand the characters or conflict?

Knowing why a chapter is in your story will also help you decide if it’s necessary.  If you can’t answer the basics as to why the chapter is needed, then you may want to consider cutting it.  This is especially true if the chapter adds nothing to the story, doesn’t move the plot or characters forward, and doesn’t enhance the conflict.

Yes, cutting whole chapters that you may have worked hard to finish can be a challenge.  But if they don’t add to your story, they aren’t worth keeping in the book.

Switching Characters

Let’s say that the chapter adds to the conflict and gives the reader some insight into the main character, but the chapter is flat and uninteresting.  It might be time to recast the chapter.

Who is currently with your main character?  Is it someone who adds life to the chapter?  Who else is available in your cast of characters that can help elevate your main character, the conflict, and help move the story forward?  

The trick is to find the right combination of characters to pair together that will help keep the momentum going.  Maybe they have a run-in with the antagonist. Perhaps the person they are with challenges the main character about their views or opinions, leading to external and internal conflict for the hero.  

The trick to this is twofold: 

  1. There needs to be a logic behind why these characters are together.  
  2. Once you’ve locked them into this chapter, you must ensure their pairing isn’t forgotten.  Whatever happens in this chapter isn’t happening in a vacuum, which means you’ll have to decide if this interaction between your chosen characters changes their relationship and how it will impact the story going forward.

Experiment with swapping out different characters and seeing which works best for the chapter.

Changing the Location

Once you decide on the characters, look at the setting.  Are they at home?  Are they at the grocery store?  Are they on a walk down a quiet pathway in the forest?  Choosing a better location for a chapter to take place can also give you more insight into your characters and provide possibilities for smaller conflicts.  

Ideally, you want to pick a location that logically works within the confines of your story.  Experiment with different locations and see what works best to keep the storyline moving forward and keep readers engaged.

What are They Doing?

If your characters are human, standing in the middle of a location and speaking to each other would be pretty dull.  They should be actively doing something while the chapter unfolds.  Even if the activity doesn’t have any bearing on the overarching conflict, you can use the setting and what can be done at the setting to your advantage by giving the characters something to do.

You could have them playing a board game together if they are at home.  If they are out and about, maybe playing pool, at the batting cages, or any other location where interaction is necessary.  You can even play against this by having them in a library arguing while trying to stay quiet.

It’s important to give readers characters who act human and do realistic things.  Even if they are bad at the activity, it’s better than just standing and talking to each other.

What’s Next?

As I said before, this chapter doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Your characters came from one place and will head off to another once this chapter – or series of chapters – is over.  If this chapter changes things going forward in the story for the positive, that’s great.  It’s okay to rework your story to make it better.

Final Thoughts

I’ve found myself doing this exercise more than once to get the characters, setting, and activity just right for the story’s sake.  Yes, it can be cumbersome and frustrating at times, and sometimes, after all that work, you’ll decide the chapter isn’t needed.  But that’s all part of the writing process.  Embrace its chaos and challenges.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

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