How To Write a Novel Step by Step: Chapter Content

Part 5 in a Series of 5

Writer typing with his typewriter

If you went through the first four parts of this series you should have some idea about developing fictional characters, establishing time and place, developing objects of central importance in your story, and mapping out the story line.

In this section we will discuss chapter content. Note that more than one chapter may be needed to cover what is going on. A common way to handle things is to have alternate chapters discuss the hero and the villain. Eventually these two must collide in action chapters.

Novels come in all flavors. It may help you to think that the chapter comments I make are part of a detective novel. Rather than trying to describe these steps to you, I have written a novelette to demonstrate them. How to get that novelette at no charge follows.

  1. Show your main character in normal surroundings.
  2. Give your character a problem to solve.
  3. Bring in helpers for your character.
  4. Your hero investigates a problem.
  5. Hero is in the place where the problem began.
  6. Hero begins to make progress, only to be thwarted.
  7. As your hero learns more he is tested more. He gets in and out of problems only to be thrust into another problem. Get your hero in "the deep stuff."
  8. Put your hero in a desperate situation; the more threatening the better.
  9. The hero discovers the truth that he or she cannot reveal.
  10. Our hero prepares to confront the villain.
  11. The hero confronts the villain and the final outcome is revealed in the action.
  12. The hero tells all, explains all, pontificates, answers all the reader's questions.

The above 12 steps may be covered in about 20 chapters. Okay, use 12 or 40. Don’t use a "red herring" to solve or commit your crime or create your problem. If you let your readers know what is going on as you write, you will not have too much of a problem. If you want to startle your reader in a negative way, introduce a "red herring." The reader will be gone. For that reason, important characters need to be introduced early in the novel.

If you alternate chapters for the hero and the antagonist, at least early in the book before they come together, you will have less risk of a problem with your readers. They will know the antagonist as well as the hero.

I haven’t mentioned dialogue. It is another subject. When people talk they use a lot of phrases like "and a" and they leave out words and insert pauses. I suggest until you are Mark Twain that you use proper spelling and proper English.

"Joe, wud ya ‘and me that brandin’ iron?" may look good to you but not your reader.

"Joe, hand me that iron before it gets as cold as a well-digger's arse in the Arctic," might work better, even with the old cliche.

Better still might be, "Joe, hand me that branding iron? Ain’t getting any warmer just sitting on that rock."

You can explain to your reader how Joe sounds, how he speaks, how he smells, etc. Just feed the facts of the matter slowly into scenes.

I wrote a short novelette to demonstrate the above step-by-step process. It’s not polished and I certainly don’t intend to convert it into a novel. If you want to steal it from me, go ahead. Flesh it out and make your first million. The novelette is in a .pdf file on my main website: will let you download their Reader free. You will need it to read the .pdf file.

Great writing!


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