Balancing Out the Plot Load

I was accused once in a book review of the plot progressing too quickly. That was a first. Especially since, in my younger writing days, I tended to write very long chapters and was accused of the story dragging too much. Because I got tired of those reviews, when I wrote The Taming and then the re-released Into the Darkness, I flipped that habit on its head. Now, my books' reviews say things like, "I couldn't put it down" or "I kept reading it well into the night". Here's how you can get that too.

Keep in mind that how well or not well a reader receives a plot's speed is partly a matter of reader taste. But, controlling what each chapter contains is one way to keep the reader moving through the book well into the night like I do. Here are some quick tips:

  • Cap your chapter length at 3000 words or less.
  • Vary the length of your chapters, meaning that they're not all set at 2000 words.
  • Never have more than one major event in any given chapter.
  • Always end a chapter on a cliffhanger, if possible.

This last one was the hallmark of Raymond Chandler's writing back in the Golden Age of detective fiction, so I have to give credit where credit is due. This tip in particular has worked in my favor, despite that one reviewer's comment.

The other thing you should do is load balance your plot. If you've ever had to have your vehicle load balanced, you know that it's a much smoother ride after you do. Or, if you have a top-load washer and too many pairs of pants end up on one side, once you move them around, it runs better.

Plots are no different. Load balancing the plot has less to do with chapter word counts or ending on a cliffhanger. It means that you've spread your major chapters as evenly as possible, while still keeping the timeline in order.

I mentioned dusting off my book Corruption of Honor last week. Much of this week has been spent on balancing out the flow of the chapters before I send it to my beta readers and then to Patreon. Not all chapters have action-packed events going on. There needs to be slower world building and character building chapters to keep the reader connected to the story and not just the action. So, I stagger the chapters as much as I can.

Action chapter. Less action chapter. Repeat.

The effect is a smooth plot with frequent action peaks dispersed throughout the less action-packed chapters. Not every chapter can have a nail-biter of a cliffhanger, but a smooth plot will get the reader moving and keep them moving.


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