As we all know by now, I’m kind of a compulsive planner. I like to have things figured out ahead of time; makes me more confident that I know what I’m doing. So when I started sketching out scenes and planning beats for my story, I was looking at a blank file and wondering how to begin. What I did was pick some numbers, and the first number I picked: 20. I decided I would aim for 20 chapters in my novel.
I don’t have any particular reason for aiming at that number. It is a nice round number with a good deal of symmetry, being easily divisible by two, four, five, and ten. And when I started trying to plan my beats and my scenes, it seemed to work well. When I came to chapters that were on the thin side, I was able to find more layers to fill things in. I think this made my story stronger. So, yay, all good.
Now, though, as I do a second pass and tighten things up, I’m finding there are scenes that really are transitions or sequels instead. There’s really no actual conflict. It’s people coming to an important realization or dealing with the ramifications of what just happened. Important things. Things that will smooth out the pacing and bring emotional depth to a story. But they don’t support a whole chapter. So – gasp! – I may be down to just 19 chapters, and counting as I continue working my way through.
I’m surprised by how I feel about this. The number 20 couldn’t have been more arbitrary, so why am I now so attached to it? But I am. A book with 19 chapters feels to me like a V8 engine running on seven cylinders. I mean, 19 is prime, for Pete’s sake! How can I deal with that?
The good news: This might lead me to adding more layers, more complications, more conflict, and therefore more richness to my story. The bad news: I’m not proud to be so hung up on numbers. Oh, well. I keep reciting my Popeye mantra: I am what I am. Or, for a totally fabulous version of this message listen to John Barrowman sing it out. No excuses!