Chapter Length: How Long Should It Be?

Recently, a co-worker expressed interest in writing a book. This individual turned to me one morning and asked, “So, how do you know how long a chapter is?” I thought he raised an interesting point and decided it would be a good topic for a blog post. Sometimes, after we’ve been writing for a while we forget some of our original questions – questions we had when we were first starting to write. To be honest, I hadn’t given chapter length much thought for a long time.

In reality, a chapter can be anything. Some books and stories don’t even use chapters. Instead, they use sections or parts. Others use both. You could have a Part 1, 2, 3 and 4, each with chapters inside of them. Some stories have long chapters that include several different scenes, some include one scene, some are just part of a scene that’s really long and so the author decided to split up the story at a cliffhanger to keep you reading (because the end of a chapter if often used as a stopping point).

In other words…

There is really no specific guideline for chapter length. I’ve read books where some chapters were 30 pages long, and some were a single page (within the same book!) Don’t be afraid to switch it up! Your book doesn’t have to be uniform or symmetrical in chapter numbers. Don’t think too much about how many chapters you have or how long each chapter is- just tell the story! Once everything is on the page, it will become easier to see where you want to divide your writing.

And there you have it. Short and sweet. When it comes to chapter length, there are no rules! Just write your story and if it needs to be split up, you will be able to tell naturally where that needs to occur. Don’t worry too much about it. Just write!

Happy writing!

-RB

Cover Art by Canva.

The Pros and Cons of Dictation

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve your writing. At times it’s not directly related to the craft itself. Sometimes it just has to do with your own efficiency and time management. One thing I like to do in order to save time is utilize dictation software to increase my writing pace.

This could mean turning out a rough draft a little quicker. Other times I use it to draft a blog within a matter of minutes. Thirdly, I use it to transcribe handwritten notes or drafts onto the computer because it’s more efficient to dictate then to write it again.

Dictation is a fantastic tool and it’s mentioned in two previous blog posts written by guest blogger Descript. However, it’s not without its downfalls. If you’re considering getting into dictation to quicken your writing pace, here are a few pros and cons that you may want to be aware of in order to better determine if dictation is truly for you.

Cons

1. It can make editing a bear, especially when it comes to writing fiction. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction chances are your characters have names very unlike Bob and Sally. When you say an unusual name the dictation software will try and form it into a common word or phrase that it sounds similar to. When going back to edit, this can prolong the editing process because you constantly have to replace “coal” with “Cole.” And that’s not even a weird name!

Now I know what you’re thinking- just use the find and replace feature, right? Wrong. It won’t hear you the same every time and may slightly alter the phrase. Also, if it sounds like something that’s in the middle of a longer word it will replace that too and just make things even more of a headache.

While I find that it’s easier to use dictation for things like essays or blog posts, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for fiction. I do use it for rough drafts. Sometimes I have to read over a sentence that makes absolutely no sense- read it out loud- to try and figure out what I was really trying to say.

2. There is a slight learning curve. When you have to say punctuation out loud such as, “comma, end quote, he said, period” it takes some getting used to. Some people choose to skip over punctuation during the initial phase and put it in later. You also have to think out loud. This is a challenge for me because a lot of my brainstorming and writing happens internally. Also, it may not be easy for everyone to lock themselves in a room away from family to get time to think out loud.

Pros

1. Whether you’re a fast or slow typist, either way, you can speak faster than you can type. I know that I can dictate up to 6000 words per hour. That is, if I don’t stop and take breaths. Obviously, you need to have a clear idea of what you’re going to write. Even if you get 4000 words in an hour with dictation, it’s better than typing at 1000 words for hour.

It can double your word count or it can cut your writing time in half so that you have more time to do other things such as reading or editing or whatever else you want to do. Maybe something that doesn’t involve writing?

2. If you have carpal tunnel, arthritis, or any kind of hand or wrist injury, this can save you a ton of pain and grief. Typing all day for hours on end takes its toll on your joints. Not to mention you’re either sitting down with butt in chair or standing still to do it. I personally don’t have the desire nor muscle coordination to work on my novel while walking on a treadmill but some people can manage it. The headset I use has a cord long enough to allow me to pace my office while dictating. It also allows me to shut my eyes, lay down on the floor and put myself in the scene, talking openly about what my imagination sees.

3. It improves your voice and public speaking skills. With practice, you become more clear in what you want to say and how you’re going to say it with less thinking. If you’re looking to become a better public speaker, dictation may just be the ticket.

4. Using an app on your phone it becomes much easier to take notes anywhere at any time. Granted, if you’re in a crowded train station it may be hard for your phone to pick up your voice among all the noise. But 9/10 if you’re taking notes into your phone, a quick memo will be recorded and you can come back to it later.

I’m not normally one to write just anywhere. It’s usually either a quiet coffee shop, a local writers center, an airport, or my home office. However, in attempts to be more prolific, it helps when I can dictate a quick note or idea into my phone. We all have those ideas at strange times or in strange places and then we think, “Oh, I’ll remember this later. I don’t need to write it down.” Raise your hand if you’ve had this thought…then later lost the idea.

If you can think of any other pros or cons, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you are already an avid dictator, please let me know which software you prefer and where you do most of your dictating.

Happy dictating.

RB

Inspiration Behind the Character: The Reaper

I think one of the questions I get most often is “Where did this idea come from?” or “What was the inspiration behind this story? This character?” It’s a tough question to answer because ideas come from everywhere. Everything you see, taste, touch, smell, and hear, can become an idea for a story. So sometimes it’s hard for me to pin down exactly where the inspiration for something came from. But in this collection of posts I want to explore the ones where I do know where the inspiration came from and how the ideas grew and became what they are today.

Personifying the Grim Reaper, Death in the Flesh

Today we’re talking about the character of the Reaper who is later known as Bain in the first book of my series, In Articulo Mortis, which is in the editing phase.

I first got the idea for the character of Bain and the story of Mortis when I was about 16 years old. I’m more than twice that age now so as you can imagine it’s been a long time coming. Obviously, I didn’t create the Grim Reaper. That character has existed for centuries but bringing him to life hasn’t been as big of a challenge as I originally anticipated. He seemed very natural to me, almost like I’d known him for a long time.

To make a long story short, I had trouble keeping my bedroom door open at night as a teenager because I always felt like some unseen force was looking in on me. Even when there was no one else home, there was sometimes like a shadow on the edge of my vision but of course when I turned my head nothing was there. It did not necessarily feel good or bad, it was just there. At night, the darkness of the bathroom across the hall seemed like it could swallow me whole. It was slightly terrifying especially when one has an overactive imagination.

In Dreams…

To add to the idea, I have the distinct memory of a dream I had once in which I had met the Grim Reaper. I wasn’t dying or dead but somehow we were speaking to one another like old friends. In the dream he was both an ally and a guide. I of course, took that and pulled it into what the story is today.

Art Begets Art

In trying to form in my head what exactly he would look like, I drew from the art of the movies I had seen. Below are a few pictures of other fictional characters that influenced the image of the Reaper/Bain.

Billy from Hocus-Pocus (played by the amazing Doug Jones) was a large piece of inspiration. Despite his rot and decay, he has this charm and playfulness about him that makes you love that character.

As we all know, there’s something about a three-piece suit (or as they say, a well-dressed man). While not pictured here, the image of the lead antagonist in the Harry Potter series, Voldemort, is seen by Harry in one of the later films, wearing a three-piece suit. It’s very snazzy, classy and timeless. I loved the idea for the Reaper. It made so much sense to be to have this crisp, tailored suit despite his rot and decay.

The Voice of Death

Bringing his voice into the book was really a no-brainer. It’s described often as “raspy” and a cross between “something foreign and ancient.” I was always very entranced by the voice of actor Michael Wincott. He, much like singer Tom Waits, has a very raspy voice. It’s very distinct and the older he gets the more beautiful his voice is. So a lot of people don’t know Michael Wincott by name but if you saw his face you could probably list at least two or three movies that you’ve seen him in. He normally plays a bad guy.

Image from Vogue magazine.
Image from Vogue magazine.
Back to Appearance and Demeanor

Another character that interested me was Anthony James’s portrayal of the Chauffeur in a movie called “Burnt Offerings.” The character never speaks and doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the film, however, his role is very critical to the story. The image of the Chauffeur was striking. It stayed in your head. So the idea of this tall, lanky, pale man reminded me of a psychopomp. That was the Grim Reaper I wanted.

In a nutshell, I think that’s where most of Bain came from. Ultimately, these ideas coming together and these influences are what created the character for me.

Thanks for reading.

-RB

Patreon for Writers and Why I Don’t Have One

If you haven’t heard of Patreon, it’s similar to a crowdfunding site but for artists. A lot of people like painters and musicians use it to collaborate with their fans and interact with them on a regular basis. I love the idea of interacting with fans. However, as a writer I find it more difficult to maintain a Patreon page and produce content for those fans while at the same time working on manuscripts.

When it comes to producing content, I have this blog where I can share excerpts and inspiration for my works in progress. I do think that some authors post poems and flash fiction or micro fiction in order to keep readers enticed but it’s not for me. The experience felt like a huge juggling act and a distraction from working on my actual projects.

It was hard to draw a line between what should be a blog post and what should be a Patreon post. Suddenly, I was spending too much time between my Instagram page, my Patreon page, and my blog, while not spending enough time on my actual manuscripts. This is part of the difficulty with navigating social media and promoting yourself as an author. There’s so many different platforms that if you’re posting regularly on every single one, it’s taking away from the time spent on the actual work.

Dedicating more time to actual blog posts, helps me hone my craft.

If you’re a writer and you’re considering setting up a Patreon account, by all means, go for it. It’s free to set up. You’ve nothing to lose. However, if you feel torn or distracted from your actual work, don’t feel guilty about getting rid of it. Ultimately, I would rather people enjoy my stories and interact with me on this blog than throw a few bucks at me every month to read something that they could read here for free.

Are you a writer with a Patreon account? What sort of content do you post for your followers and do you feel that it helps your sales any? Please comment below and let me know what you think about writers having a Patreon page.

Happy writing.

RB

Don’t Give Away Your Work for Free

Recently, I started posting an older publication of mine, chapter by chapter, in the hopes that it would let people sample my writing and grow their interest. I wrestled with myself a long time about it because I have strong opinions about not giving away your work for free. After all art is work. Yes, it can be fun but it’s still a job. And there’s nothing that peeves me more than people who expect to get your hard work for free.

After having some long conversations with myself, I decided that I was going to go ahead and post all of my first novella, Laszlo, on this blog, free of charge. However, partway through posting, I had a friend from work tell me that his neighbor had published a book about his time spent in prison.

My co-worker did a fantastic job selling the book (and he hadn’t even read it yet.) Needless to say, my interest was immediately piqued. After all, I like to learn and prison is a place that I’ve never been nor do I ever want to go. So what better way to learn than from a book written by someone who’s actually been there? I was very excited to read it. I went home that day and purchased it for five dollars on Amazon.

According to my Kindle, I got 20% through the book before I stopped. The summary of the piece on Amazon should’ve been a huge red flag that the quality of the writing inside the book wasn’t going to be much better. I hate bashing other artists’ work and I really wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. If I don’t care for someone else’s work, I won’t say anything but this piece was so horrible, I felt compelled to warn others.

The following is what I wrote about the piece:

“The Amazon summary of this book was a huge warning sign that the piece itself would be filled with errors but I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I had to return it for a refund. This piece is filled with typographical errors, incorrect punctuation, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, incorrect verb tenses and mix-ups between plural and singular verbs and nouns. The author claims that this book has been edited (as per the very beginning) but not by anyone with a proper education, comprehension of the English language or the craft of writing. Frankly, it’s insulting to those who both respect and understand the craft of storytelling.

Overall, there is no story structure. It reads like a NaNoWriMo rough draft. There is also no variance between the author’s voice as a narrator and the dialogue of other people/characters. The idea for a story is there but it isn’t organized; one could say it’s a 200+ page rant. Some of the paragraphs are over two pages long. The book was originally published by Infinity Publications which (after going to their website) appears to be a cross between self-publishing and a vanity publisher. While I see nothing wrong with self-publishing, this is one of the many pitfalls. Books like this are why self-published authors receive a bad reputation.”

Not only were there quality issues, but I had some personal issues with the piece that caused me to stop reading. For instance, the author described every woman in the book by her bra size and breast shape. Occasionally there was an ass or thigh mentioned. In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that he doesn’t have a good relationship with his daughter. After seeing how he describes women as walking sex, I can see why. I hope for his daughter’s sake that she stays far away from him until he understands how to properly reintegrate into society.

It’s rare that I leave reviews on books but I’m trying to get better because the Golden Rule states to do unto others what you would want done to you.

Reviews can help sell books, so I’ve been trying to leave reviews on Goodreads or Amazon for every book I read. As stated before, I hate leaving a bad review. If I had written something and published it with that many errors, I would hope that someone would bring it to my attention, so that I could improve.

That was a long-winded explanation but this is ultimately why I stopped posting my work for free. I composed a story that may not be the best story ever written, but I took the time to think about voice and characterization. In taking the time to proofread and edit and get others to look at it, I actually cared about the craft and I think in large part that’s what separates the successful from the unsuccessful. Their passion.

When it comes to writing (and other forms of art), you have to have passion for the craft. A lot of people see writing as a get rich quick scheme. They think it would be easy to be sitting on a beach in Maui by this time next year.

The truth is- if it were easy, everyone would do it.

The other day I saw a meme that said, “Stop trying to skip the struggle.”

It’s easy to get discouraged when you release a book or a couple of books and you feel like you should be an overnight success. The thing about overnight successes is that while it appears to happen overnight from the outside looking in, the person it’s happening to has probably put a lot of work and years of struggle into making their vision a reality.

Going forward, I will continue to post excerpts and chapters from published works with links to the actual product. However, I will not be posting entire works for free. Art is work and if you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else to?