I finally bit the bullet. I made my own writing worksheets.
In the past year, I’ve wrapped up the writing and editing process of one book and have started at least three others. If you’re a creative type, you know this isn’t unusual. Most of us have starts and stops and fits and tantrums, and at least three projects in the hopper at any one time.
I used to be completely against plotting things out, but as I grew up and into my role as someone tackling books that are upwards of 60,000 words (and not just 500 word blog posts!), I learned to love mapping things out. Less to keep myself on a strict track, and more to make sure I don’t stall at word 24,768.
There are a few things I know I do well, and one of them is chapter structure. I’m a huuuuuuuge fan of writing “pageturners,” or books with chapters that bleed into one another so you never want to put the book down. I consider it a job well done if a reader tells me they stayed up all night to finish something that I wrote.
(When wanting to illustrate a “cliffhanger”, I went with this instead of a still from the Stallone movie.)
For my first book, a lot of this stuff was very natural to me.
Why wouldn’t you end each chapter with a cliffhanger, so the reader would want to continue? Why wouldn’t your side characters also have motivations? These are a lot of storytelling things that were 101 basic.
But then, I went through editing. And the answers to my editor’s questions just weren’t there.
That’s when I sat down and made some writing worksheets!
I always start with mapping my major plot points, starting with Chapter 1 and Chapter 40– the general beginning and end of my book. What starts off the whole problem, and where does it finish? The middle 38 chapters are basically connecting the dots.
Do this in pencil, because sometimes Chapters 1-39 lead to an entirely different Chapter 40.
I do this for pretty much anyone who has a name in one of my books, and can do it on the fly. Generally I already have an idea of my protagonist and antagonist, but everyone in the middle gets a sheet.
If there’s one part of writing that is way, waaayyyyyyy more complicated than I ever thought, it’s the conflict. Literally, everything that stands in the way of your protagonist. Obviously this shifts while you’re writing, but it’s best to think out all the pain and sorrow to start with. You never know what will inform your character’s actions!
This is my favorite part! The overall rise and fall of each chapter is the fun, chewy, delectable stuff. And for me, the fun part is the part that’s usually forgotten: the introduction of the new problem!
Unless you’re writing a picaresque novel (like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles) your chapters are not standalone stories. Each one has to feed into another. There’s no reason to continue on if problems are wrapped up into neat little packages in each and every chapter. So do yourself a favor and remember: a chapter isn’t over until you introduce the next problem.