August 12, 2004

Weird Dream

Last night I had one dozy of a dream. When I woke up, I thought this was a perfect example of a dream that makes me a writer.

The dream started with a group of kids with their “uncle” out exploring a string of South Pacific islands. (Read older, Charlie Sheen kind of guy that may or may not be related to these kids.) The very beginning had the kids teasing their Uncle by hiding in mud underneath these carrots so that when you pulled up the carrots, the kids were attached via chewing on the tips. While the kids thought this was very funny (and I have to admit it was an amusing image) the Uncle didn’t take pulling up the carrots and finding the kids well – it flashed back to his time in “the jungle war.” (Cue quick flash to very disturbing images of nearly the same set up but with monster Viet Cong attached to the carrots instead. Actually, perhaps, this was suggested by the Charlie Sheen/Martin Sheen Apocalypse Now tie.)

At one point, the uncle goes off on a boat and the kids end up on an island by themselves. This island has a massive, seemingly deserted Disneyland-like area with hotels boarded up and rides standing empty and such. They wonder around and stop by these twin pools. Little do they realize that the large ugly “fish” things in the pools aren’t individual creatures by the pseudo-pods. Kids being kids, they decide that they’ll go fishing, and they hook one of the pods and up comes the entire monster creature, something like jellyfish, only on a Godzilla-scale.

Up rears this awful monster, black and oozing, towering over them with great fishy tentacles….

But luck has it that the unbreakable fishing line … which is tied back at the boat that the uncle is on and is of unending length… slices the creature neatly in two.

Now, this would be great, it also slices off this large, pinkish wedge-shaped “tip” that now comes after the kids. They start to run, holding onto the fishing line that’s spinning out and never gets hooked up. In the back of my mind, I know this is how the uncle will realize that they’re in trouble and needs help, plus it’s their only weapon.

So a long chase plays out through this ruined amusement park, which, as it turns out, not so deserted as there ends up people there who react to the oncoming kids and pursuing monster. One elderly Mexican couple takes them under wing and shows them a passage to crawl through to pond on the other side of the island. In the pond are tiny proto-tips, left over from other chases of other kids. And in the back of my mind now, I know that these other chases did not end well for the other kids.

It also comes to me that the tip is locked only on the one that first disturbed it, unfortunately, the youngest kid, a scrappy girl with blonde pigtails is the target of the tip.

She plunges through the pond, down over the steep hillside, out onto the beach and finally into the surf, still holding onto the fishing string and still being chased. All seems lost, when lo and behold, the uncle finally arrives on the scene. He plucks the little girl out of the water, into the boat, and hits the throttle. The tip is left behind, unable to keep up and dying.

I wake up and think – okay, that was weird. Hmmmm, now, can I USE it…?

Posted by wen at 11:36 AM

August 04, 2004

How many chapters in a book?

On the Forward Motion forum at, a person asks:

Is few chapters better?

They go on to explain:

My novel (now in final edit) currently has 83 chapters even though I'm only at about 100,000 words. Many chapters are only a coupla pages long. I think I could merge them down to about 42 chapters total. What are the advantages of fewer chapters?

I posted this reply to this question:

I believe that while there is nothing actually WRONG with lots and lots of short chapters, I think that perhaps that you're confusing scene with chapter.

Scenes are one unit of action: a conversation, a fight, sex, an agrument.

A chapter is a set of scenes grouped together as a unit.

Just as its not a great idea to have a scene be all one-sentence paragraphs, or one paragraph that runs for pages, it's also not really a great idea to have each scene be a chapter. Chapters are great tools for theme and pacing by how you group together various scenes. For example, if you group together several short scenes together in one chapter, they feel less choppy because you're presenting them as a unit. Similiarly, if you have one sprawling scene that runs for pages and pages -- you can break it unnaturally and call it a new chapter, and people will go with that.

My 100,000 novels usually have about 20 chapters of 5,000 words each. Each chapter has many scenes in it. Usually I write out the scenes and later decide which ones will be grouped together. I try to find a natural cliffhanger and make that the end of the chapter. People often tell me that they can't put my books down because when they get to the end of the chapter, they HAVE to find out what happens in the next.

If I let each scene be a chapter, then they would all have equal weight. Unless I made each one a cliff hanger (bad idea) there would be more times the reader would hit the end of a chapter, feel no need to start the next chapter, and put the book down.

If you have 83 chapters and each are many scenes long, I'm wondering if you're not doing some kind of mega outlining.

Posted by wen at 08:56 PM