Mapping the Scenes of a Chapter by guest author Mason Bushell

I am delighted to have my friend and fellow author, Mason Bushell visit my blog today to share her experience of mapping the scenes of chapters in her writing. Thank you so much for visiting, Mason and for sharing your writing tips with me and my readers today.

To have a balanced well written story it’s essential to map it out. You can of course do this as you go. A better approach is to complete your map before you begin writing. My method is a story skeleton, as follows

  1. Begin with the synopsis. Usually no more than a page of work that outlines the main story from start to finish. This gives a firm base from which to build the full story.
  2. Next start the skeleton by writing out each chapter number and bulleting sections, 1-3 beneath each heading. Note; ‘Twenty to twenty five chapters tends to get you sixty to seventy thousand words. Thirty chapters plus will get you around the hundred thousand mark when completed.’ to roughly guide you.
  3. From there break the synopsis into its individual events. Insert them into the number one slots of your chapter skeleton. Note; ‘Do this working in pencil as you may feel the need to move or add some as you go along. Characters have a habit of changing the story on you!’ Remember here that some events may cross more than one chapter to add cliff-hanger points or to bring other events in line with them. Use arrows to link those is needs be.
  4. Don’t try to force events into every chapter for not all of them will focus on the main story. Just put in what you can, where it needs to go on the chapter timeline. Thinking about the structure and drama as you go to get the flow right.
  5. Next, a good story always has side story or stories entwined within it. Add the scenes for that into the number two section of the chapter skeleton. Again not every chapter will have these, just add in what you have where it fits in the skeleton and story timeline.
  6. Now on to the skeleton is the third section. This is for any events, scenes or occurrences you wish to include in the chapter. Little happenings that don’t pertain to the main or side story as such. Drop those into the number three sections again where you need them.
  7. That’s all three done you should now have a good vision for your whole story. Spend time checking this and moving events about as needed until you feel happy. Don’t worry for you can always split and add chapters or remove them as you go along the skeleton is merely your story guide to help you stay on course and get it written. Well done, that’s the first part done we can now plan our chapter.

Moving on to mapping and writing chapters. We’ll take a chapter from the skeleton and we’ll say we gave it three events for this example of the skeleton method.

The first phase is to align and entwine those chronologically or in a way that’ll make best sense to the reader. Do this in a way that drives our reader into and through the chapter. Remember these points.

  • Begin at a place that will show continuity from the previous chapter (Unless this is our first chapter). Or a point that creates a nice shift from the previous to a new time, place or perspective.
  • Let the first few lines or opening scene inform the readers as to what’s to come in the chapter.
  • Hook the reader into moving on into the story. Dialogue is a good way, it gets the reader straight into the action. It can give immediate questions and interest to a reader, where preamble or long description may bore our precious reader.

The second phase is to chain nicely into events two and three ensuring the pace and flow is satisfying. Here are a few good ways and tips to do this:

  • Use the surroundings or places to move event to event,
  • Use differing character or narrator points of view
  • Break suddenly into the next event at times.
  • Use many different and varying ways to keep the story moving, unexpected and interesting,

The third phase is to end your chapter well. It needs both climax and desire to read on. There are many ways to do that, like these:

  • Leave it with a big question,
  • A cliff hanger
  • A, what happens next moment.
  • An unexpected event like a risky kiss could potentially do all three as an example.
  • Try never to leave it at a low point or a place that feels like nothing is happening. This will kill momentum and possibly cause the reader to put the book down.

Remember our events that may cross two or more chapters here creating cliff hanger moments with ease. Just remember to follow your skeleton arrows so to save you needing to repair a scene that you ended and shouldn’t have later. (I’ve done this, it’s the ultimate writers momentum killer!)

Now if this is the last chapter it’s a little different. There you must bring your story to a close in a way that leaves the reader feeling pleased to have read it. Desirous to want more of your work in their lives.

  • End on a high note
  • End with reference to something that happened at the beginning. This gives a sense of coming full circle in a story and is often pleasing.
  • Don’t necessarily answer all the questions you raised. Give the reader something to ponder beyond the end of the book. It’ll leave them wanting more and enjoying the thought process, keeping you in their minds for longer.
  • Are you planning a sequel? If so leave a tantalising clue as to what’s coming soon.

Lastly, where only one or two events appear in a chapter. Break the events down into individual parts and timeline them. Then they too will be conformable to the above plan. Albeit with a slightly smaller chapter, which is no bad thing for the following reasons:

  • Short chapters tend to have less description and be more actioned filled and faster paced.
  • Longer chapters tend to be description and dialogue filled. Be careful not to be over heavy with either or the reader may grow tired of the story before the chapter ends.
  • Thus Varying chapter lengths will increase and decrease pace with the story flow.
  • Chapters of equal length tend to make the reader expect the end to come which can lead to boredom.

Let the chapter’s individual story dictate its length. Then just flesh it, or thin it to make it flow nicely.

It’s good practice to edit each chapter as an individual piece. This gives you a view and feeling of how it alone flows and reads. Then you can edit the story as a whole ensure it comes together as the masterpiece you hoped for when you first picked up your pen. Most importantly enjoy the process for if you do, your readers will enjoy what you wrote. Happy writing!

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