From my work on Yahoo!Answers, here are five questions from folks who are working on various writing projects, along with my answers:
Question #1 – How long should a chapter be?
I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I need help. This is the first book-length piece I’ve attempted, and I’m not sure how long a chapter should be. If someone could tell me how many pages a chapter in a novel should contain, I would be grateful.
Answer to question #1
Think of your chapters as scenes in a movie. You should divide the text to give the reader a breather and to allow effective transitioning to subsequent scenes. The final paragraphs of each chapter give you marvelous opportunities to build suspense and acceleration into your novel.
No firm rule exists for the length of a chapter, but your target audience has a lot to do with it. If your fantasy novel is intended for adolescents or young adults, you might want to structure it with shorter chapters of perhaps 2,500 to 3,000 words. The attention spans of more mature readers might allow for chapter lengths of 4,000 or 5,000 words.
My suggestion is to write your novel without thinking about chapters. When you have completed the rough draft, you can examine the structure and decide what to do about marking the scenes, crafting transitions, and planning white space.
One simple and effective way to make your decision is to go to the library or bookstore, find books that are similar to yours, and note their overall lengths, the number of chapters, and the number of words per chapter. All serious writers have done this at some time during their careers, and you will benefit immensely from such bookstore browsing and counting.
Question #2 – How do I overcome writer’s block?
I’m in the middle of writing a novel for teens, and I’ve run out of ideas. I’ve been working on the book for four months, and now I’m stuck. I’ve tried putting it aside and returning to it with the hope that something new will occur to me, but nothing does. I don’t know if I should stop writing permanently or if I should wait longer and try again.
Answer to question #2
Running into a creativity wall is not uncommon in the world of fiction writing. When it happens, the best thing to do is to cease working on that project and begin another. Don’t stop writing altogether, though. Simply let the first piece rest while you focus your energy on another novel.
Authors of good fiction write lots of material that they are unable to use or that they finish years later. I have a completed novel with a plot that doesn’t seem strong enough to send to publishers or agents, so I’ve published some excerpts as short stories.
Even if you never finish this novel, you may be able to use some of its characters in other long-fiction pieces. Keep writing, and many of your stories will come together into meaningful wholes. Writing fiction requires a high ability to defer gratification.
Question #3 – What major should I choose?
What should I major in, if I love writing but don’t want to be poor? I enjoy writing and English, and I want to pursue a writing-related career, but I have no idea which one.
Answer to question #3
English is a great major, but other writing-related ones do exist. You’ll employ writing skills extensively in journalism, philosophy, history, and numerous other subjects. These days, though, planning to make money on an undergraduate liberal-arts degree alone is risky. If you choose a major like English or history, you should plan to do post-graduate work in order to make yourself marketable.
High-level writing skills will help you as you pursue further studies. Remember, everything that appears in magazines, newspapers, books, textbooks, e-books, and on the Internet is written and edited by someone. Writing is a high skill and will be an asset to you for the rest of your life.
Question #4 – How should I begin my story?
I want to write a creative story about life in the Great Depression. How should I begin?
Answer to question #4
One approach is show something dramatic about depression times in the opening paragraphs and then work your way to a more specific view of the story you want to tell at the end of the introductory portion. Take a look at The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. He starts with a chapter about the dust-bowl days and alternates with chapters about the specific story he’s telling.
Another approach is to write your entire story as you think of it and worry about creating the beginning later. This is the approach I prefer, because it makes your prose more spontaneous and fresh. Writers who choose this method often find the true beginnings of their stories buried a couple of hundred words into their rough drafts.
Question #5 – How do I choose a title?
The title I’ve chosen for my science-fiction novel is “Little Morphing Annie.” Would you buy a book with that title? Can you help me create a better one?
Answer to question #5
Your title might be a good one, depending on the age of your target audience. It probably won’t work for adolescents or young adults, but if yours is a picture book for children, it might be fine.
Published writers try to select the best titles possible before submitting their manuscripts to agents, but they all know that publishers often change the titles before allowing their books to go to print. Just do the best you can to title your work properly for its audience and let the agents and publishers take it from there.