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About Writing Right: The Blog


Someone asked online the other day how to know when to break a fantasy novel into "parts" and how long those parts should be. As usual, the advice from other respondents was sketchy at best. One gal was really off base. Here's what I advised.

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Okay, listen up. Let's get one thing straight. As a teenage writer, you have my empathy. I was fifteen when I wrote my first "novel." Maybe fourteen. Who cares. What matters is that the Queen of Wrong misfired again. In her response to you, she assumed by "parts" you meant "chapters." That may be right, of course. But I doubt it, or you would have referred to them as "chapters." I'm assuming instead that by "parts" you mean "parts." As in "Part One, Part Two, Part Three" of a book, etc. And that your chapters will fall into those parts. (Forgive those who jump to conclusions and shoot from the lip, for they know not what they do.)


If this is true, your question can't be answered here. Or anywhere else, for that matter.


The number of "parts" you have in a fantasy novel is dependent upon one thing ONLY. How many do you want? How many do you need? How many do you end up with? You're the writer, after all. That means that you're the one who has the story rattling around in his head, waiting to be freed. And that means that you get to call the shots. No one else. Only you.


Now here comes the gut punch. The creator doesn't solicit advice; he creates. If you want to write a cookie-cutter junk fantasy novel filled with 5,000-word chapters (in general), go ahead. If you want to create your story in your words, go ahead. The difference? One will be the same old garbage that other writers always produce—formulaic, poorly crafted, unbelievably naive tales of fantastic proportion. The other will be yours. For good or bad, better or worse, it will be yours.


Now, you may be thinking, "Gee, that's really nifty. (Forgive me. My generation, you understand.) But he still hasn't answered my question as to whether or not I should divide my novel into parts. And if so, how many?


Okay, fair enough. And here's the answer. The one and only answer that makes any sense. Are you ready?


"Parts" and "chapters" and "books" and any other words you might choose to define the various breaks in your novel are fluid. They're not etched in stone. They vary in length, and they vary in content. You're telling the story, so you have to be the one to decide what makes sense for inserting a particular break and what doesn't.


Scary? Just the opposite. It should feel glorious! It's a recognition that you are the master of your own destiny—and that of your novel, of course. That means you call the shots. You make the cutaways. And if you screw something up, you go back and fix it.


How will you know when or if you screw something up? By reading. And re-reading. And re-reading again until you can't read anymore and your eyeballs end up rolling around in a circle on your desk. It's called self-editing, and that, too, is one of the more spectacular parts about writing a novel. You get to be student and teacher all rolled into one. How cool is that?


So, how does it feel? Tell me. I'd really like to know. When I set out to write a book and end up with the book I want (even if it's vastly different than where I intended it to go), I'm on top of the world. If you want to feel that way, too, stop asking questions that only you—the creator—can answer. And stop taking answers from people such as Queenie seriously.


Just my take on the subject. Hope it helps. Meanwhile ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs weekly at Substack. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he's only human!)

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