So you know you’re getting serious about writing a new novel when a) you can’t stop thinking about it and b) you start breaking down other novels to learn how their authors put them together. This is especially the case when you’re breaking down amazing novels like The Hunger Games, novels which seemed so light and brilliant when you read them, but which splinter and crack apart under the harsh scrutiny of your authorial eye when you break them down, chapter by chapter. To do so to such a novel requires both a cold and callous heart and serious determination.
What did I learn from The Hunger Games? There are 27 chapters, and the novel is divided into three sections, each about 125 pages long. Each chapter is about 3,000 words or so, and contain about three or four ‘beats’. A beat is a rough approximation of a scene, say, so a Chapter might contains the following beats:
1) Katniss wakes up, walks out of the town into the forest
2) Meets up and hunts with a friend, discusses life
3) Returns to town, hits up the black market
4) A critical encounter occurs, setting up the next chapter
Hunger Games has excellent pacing; almost all of the reviews I’ve read mention how they as the reader were sucked in, and unable to set the book down. This is due to the structure; 3,000 words go by quickly if not bogged down with excessive description, and ending each one with a mini cliff-hanger leaves you constantly hungry for more. It’s all that plus Collin’s clear, taut language and the urgency of her plot, but that structure is fundamental to the success of the novel.
What can I learn from that? Obviously, how to work out my own plot development. Think in terms of major sections of the plot (setup, middle, climax), then break each chunk down into about 10 chapters, making sure that each chapter ends with a hook, and contains about 4 beats.
Sound too soulless and mathematical? Perhaps. But I’ve had readers of my previous novels get worn out by the length of my chapters, by having to slog through my purple prose, so that instead of racing through the novel they’re wading as if through mud. Not good! I’m going to deliberately try my hand at this different style, remaining aware at all times as to pacing and clarity of prose, in order to see if I can’t craft something more compelling and fun.
In a way, this is just another experiment. Each successive novel that I’ve written (lawks a mussy, this is going to be my fourth) has been an attempt at something new, and so hey, if this doesn’t work, there’s always my fifth, and sixth, and seventh…
But I’ve got a good feeling about this one, folks. Let’s just see where it goes.