One, two, splat

lioncub The writing task I always put off is Chapter 3.

Chapter 1 is easy. It’s a fresh idea, a fresh start, a fling with some new characters. It’s like sneaking out of your bedroom window at night and creeping off for some unauthorized fun. It’s the attraction of the unknown, crammed with possibilities.

Chapter 2 is the counterpoint, a response, the chance to provide the answering viewpoint, the villain’s machinations, or the Big Thing that raises the stakes to a nerve-shattering pitch.

Chapter 3 is where the author has to get past the fanfare and start providing actual story. If the fireworks in the first two chapters were nothing but a lot of light and sound, this is where the shaky foundation becomes apparent. Cue sound of fizzling. Cue sound of author whistling as they stroll away, pretending they didn’t like that dumb story anyway.

I hate chapter 3. If we make it past that danger point, chapter 5 is nearly as bad, because that’s where the author has to have another trick in her bag to crank up the volume. It has to be something fresh that the reader hasn’t seen coming, yet not so outlandish that your editor suspects you’re using a plotting version of Mr. Potato Head.

I love chapter 10, because if I make it that far I know my book has a chance to survive infancy. Nevertheless, there are still dangerous waters ahead. I have a tendency to suddenly start hallucinating around chapter 13 that I have far too many pages to fill, and that I’d better drag in a third and fourth plot just to fill it up—which is how I have been known to exceed my allotted word count by, oh, 60,000 words. Sagging middles have never been my literary foe. Knowing when to back away from the keyboard is.

If I can avoid the “gee, I guess I’d better throw in a revolt by the trolls” trap, I finish in good order. The second half of the book will go twice as fast as the first, because all my lovely setup is unwinding just like it’s supposed to. Biff! Bam! Dragons! Holy batwings, Dracula!

The problem is that I have to get past chapter 3 to get there. All the decisions are yet to be made. All the slog up the hill of rising tension has yet to begin. Chapter 3 is what tests not just your inspiration, but your resolve, your toolkit, and your devious plan. It’s where the real authors come out to play, fully prepared to make their characters’ lives sheer hell. Hear us roar!

Or mew. Sometimes ideas aren’t quite ready for the world. After all, who doesn’t have a few started-but-never-got-traction projects stored away on hard drives, in closets, or in craft cupboards?

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