Chapter Openings

Objects + Conflicts = Story

Think of chapters as a chain reaction. The first mover doesn’t have to be revealed until the very last paragraph of the book, but writers should know who or what set the initial action in motion. Each chapter is a response to a preceding quake, which sets off more tremors in the chapters that follow. Pinpoint the epicenter, understand the magnitude of the shaking that ensues, follow the internal and external reactions, staying mindful of the ripple effects that rock each character and subplot. Make use  of key object(s), which reveal characters. Highlight setting to drive narrative and make meaning. Know the instigators of each storyline, and exploit them as elemental building blocks to further the narrative.

Be sure to determine the following as you begin each chapter:

1. OBJECTS- What artifacts are key in the scene?
2. IMMEDIATE AND PHYSICAL NEED- What are the urgent needs of each character: a glass of water, a one-way ticket out of town, or a phone call to a loved one?
3. SETTING- DETAILS!!
4. PLOT CONFLICT- What is the over-arching need of each character?
5. HOW ARE EACH OF THE CHARACTERS NEEDS AND WANTS CONFLICTED IN OPPOSITION TO EACH OTHER?

As you plot each chapter, determine how many scenes and settings you need to cover in each section. Be aware of other characters who may not appear in a particular chapter but who will be affected by the actions and developments that take place. Be sure to distinctly decide on imagery for the beginning and ending of each chapter, which will can pin the skeletal frame of each scene in your chapter.

To keep your story-telling fresh, paint the first scene of each chapter with a new stroke each time:

  • Historical fact
  • Color
  • Action by Stranger, supporting/main character
  • Flashback of main/supporting character, or passerby
  • Personality Trait, Tic, or Habit of main/supporting character or passerby
  • Physical Trait, Mannerism, Gesture of main/supporting character or passerby
  • Mishap or Accident
  • Weather
  • Time
  • Place
  • History of Setting
  • Food
  • Preparation of Food
  • Daily Ablution
  • Object/Article, hated or loved by main/supporting character or passersby
  • Animals
  • Painting or Sculpture
  • Music
  • Nature
  • Scientific Tidbit
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Balance
  • Touch
  • Psychic Connection
  • Technology
  • Agriculture
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Political Fact
  • Cultural Background
  • Feminist Perspective
  • Classical Allusion
  • Pop Culture Allusion
  • Epistle
  • Folktale
  • Myth
  • Lie
  • Joke or Anecdote
  • Snippet of Dialogue
  • Radio, Television, Newspaper, or Magazine Ad
  • Obituary
  • Editorial Column
  • Newspaper Article
  • Tweet
  • Instant Message
  • Voicemail Message
  • Label on Cereal Box, Pill Bottle, Cleaning Product, or another grocery item
  • Poem
  • Novel or Book Excerpt
  • Song Lyric
  • Billboard
  • Recipe
  • Directions and Instructions
  • Street Sign
  • Store Front or Store Sign
  • Bus Ad
  • Photo
  • Photo Album
  • On the Road
  • On the Sidewalk
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