Monday, November 28, 2011

Chapterness Conclusion

            Studying chapterness in Wintergirls, freed me to see how each of my chapters could grow organically.  To assume there is a formula for chapter structure would be a misinterpretation of this little study.  There are all kinds of chapters: short one-scene chapters, chapters that start with some exposition and build into a scene and then another scene, chapters that frame a flashback in a present scene to forward the character’s journey.  The possibilities are endless.   
            At least now, I have some tools with which to prod my chapters to see if they’re actually functioning as chapters: 

       1) Is my character moving forward inside and out?  
       2) Does my character face choices, and do I take him far enough?  
       3) Does a complication cause a rise in tension that lands the character in a new place?   
       4) Do the smaller arcs clump to form a larger one?   

These questions helped me shift around the note cards on which I'd outlined my novel, as well as, add some cards that were missing.  I’m sure I’ll re-see my chapters as I write through my second draft.  I just feel glad to not be falling back on mere intuition about where the chapters should begin and end.  It helps to have a thoughtful understanding of some actual mechanics of chapters.
            Special thanks to one of my personal YA goddesses, Laurie Halse Anderson, for writing such an artful book.
            What are your thoughts on chapterness?  How do you structure your chapters?  What kind of chapters do you like to read the most?  When you read, do you hold onto each chapter conceptually in your memory or do you sort of get lost in them?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on chapters too.  Thoughtful artistry means exchanging ideas and refining the way we see our art.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chapters: Arcs Clumping Together

            In the case of Wintergirls Chapter 11, one arc made a complete chapter, but arcs more often than not clump together to form chapters.  In Chapter 35 of Wintergirls, after attending Cassie’s funeral, Lia arrives at her mother, Chloe’s, house to spend the night.   
            Arc 1: Lia pulls into the driveway observing the cars for the wake parked across the street, and she observes her mother pull up next to her seemingly upset.  Lia searches the house for her mother who’s gone in first and finds her crying in the shower.  This arc establishes a rich ambiguity for the chapter: Chloe could be crying over Cassie’s death, over the danger Lia is in, or over a patient who’s died.   
            Arc 2: Lia cooks a meal for Chloe, asks about Cassie’s autopsy, and when Chloe takes a call from the hospital zones out remembering how the negative voices of this house got in her head.   
            Arc 3: Lia takes her mother’s deal –Lia will eat, and Chloe will tell Lia about Cassie’s autopsy.  
            Each arc has its own rise and landing in a new place.  But they also function together to depict how this daughter and mother get what they need out of each other.  The chapter also continues the through-line of the novel –Lia’s battle with Cassie; she has to know what happened to Cassie and whether she will follow her down the same road or defeat her.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapters: Arcs and Complications

            So I get that a chapter has to move the character forward, and I get that choices and going far enough are ways to do that.  But when are my chapters supposed to end?  I mean, how far forward do you let the character move before making a break between one chapter and the next?  The answer seems to be explained by arcs.
            I feel like I get arcs.  I drew a bunch of little arcs to help me understand the chapters I studied, but explaining the specific arcs of each chapter in words was harder. These concepts helped:

• An arc is a small beginning-middle-end in a story.
• Tension rises in the middle.
• The character lands in a new place.
• That rise in the middle is caused by a complication. 

Chapter 11 of Wintergirls, a short, two-page chapter demonstrates how an arc can work.   
Beginning: Lia is in bed, unable to sleep, sure Cassie’s ghost is right outside her door; she even spins herself an imaginary cocoon for protection.   
Then middle: the fragrance of ginger, cloves, and burnt sugar which Lia’s come to identify with Cassie infiltrates the room, and Cassie appears addressing Lia in ghost form for the first time.  “Come with me,” she says to Lia.   
Finally end: Lia spends the rest of the night locked in Cassie’s gaze.   

The complication:  Cassie not only appears, but makes her demand propelling things forward.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chapters: Choices and Going Far Enough

            Wintergirls Chapter 9 is an excellent example of how Anderson gives Lia choices and takes things far enough emotionally.  Lia arrives home having made it through the day in which she learned her friend, Cassie, died alone in a motel room after leaving Lia thirty-three unanswered messages.   
            Anderson gives Lia choices: she eats a rice cake instead of Thanksgiving leftovers; she turns down sister Emma’s invite to kick the soccer ball around in favor of retreating to her room and digging out a pill to help her cope; and when her dad comes in at the end of the night to suggest they talk, Lia pretends she’s asleep.  With each choice we see her retreat further from her family.  
           Perhaps more importantly, Lia would also like to avoid the thought of Cassie and any responsibility for Cassie’s death, but the idea dogs her until her father finally gets up and leaves her for the night.  At this point, Lia is not just sad she’s lost her friend, or frightened she may be on the same path.  Lia is, in fact, plagued by the idea that Cassie’s death is her fault.  This is Anderson going all the way emotionally.