Since this is my first ever blog post, I should preface this by saying welcome! I’m J.J. Egosi and I write fiction novels for a living. (I can dream about that last part, can’t I?) I hope to share some of my writing habits and the lessons I’ve gained over the 5 years I’ve been putting stories together. (It’s more like 5, but I was mostly playing with the idea of being a writer for the first 2. A college I didn’t care for got in the way). That aside, I’d like to focus on the nitty-gritty in this post. What exactly goes into writing a book chapter by chapter. As the title suggests, I write pretty large amounts of content in a short period of time, so I’d like to show how (and why it’s a bad idea) to do that.
Again, not a good idea
If you’re interested in learning how to write such in such high quantities, I can’t blame you. In short, you can write all your favorite ideas much faster. To do that, you really need to stay organized. For me, I never go into a chapter without having a concise outline broken down into what I call blocks.
What are blocks?
They’re quite literally what builds the chapter. Essentially, they’re very short paragraphs detailing what I want to see happen scene by scene. For example, the opening block of a chapter sets the scene for this hopefully epic journey. I might describe anything from the glow of the sun onto a forest to the screams of a wartorn battlefield. That really depends on where I am in the manuscript. From there, I’ll have blocks detailing what characters are saying to one another and potential actions being taken. I might describe those in 2 separate blocks if there’s a lot happening at once. It sounds like a real headache and it is because you need a very concise notion of what you want the chapter to be before you write it, but it’s really proven to work time and time…and time again for me.
How many blocks do you write in a chapter?
This really depends on how much I want to happen in a chapter. The opening of a book is typically one of the longest because I want it to have a lot of punch. They often have around 20-25 blocks from top to bottom. I create them from a rough outline. A 3 bullet summary chapter by chapter I write well beforehand. (I know. This is a lot of prep work!) Ideas often change over time and the supposedly great story hooks turn out to be garbage. The block outline is written the day before the actual chapter is written, so it forces me to confront my initial vision and reconfigure it when needed.
How long is a block?
A quick calculation would suggest they last about 2 pages. If you’re aiming for 50 and you have 25 blocks, that’s how much you have to churn out, right? Well, you certainly can. However, it isn’t so cut and dry.
How many types of blocks are there?
Not all blocks are treated equally. If there’s a block that centers around only dialogue and progressing the storyline this way (a terrible secret revealed that may include exposing a dangerous artifact) this probably won’t reach the 2-page threshold. This is especially true if there are only a handful of characters in a scene. A large cast can almost always boost the length of any block. You don’t always want to give them the spotlight, especially if they’re not ‘spotlight’ characters, but what that means to me is a discussion for another blog. My point is these are probably going to fall short and that’s okay. That’s where fight scenes come in!
A fight scene may end up looking very small on that notes outline I keep on my phone. Since dialogues are very specific due to critical information, they can take up a dozen lines whereas freeform fight scenes may only take up 4-6. This translates quite differently when it’s time to face the big white canvas that is your word document. You want the fight scene to be intense. You want your characters to go all out and use a ton of awesome moves. You’ll need dialogue to further the plot or you’re not doing a whole lot aside from creating a distraction. Maybe that’s what you’re going for. There are many types of fight scenes. Again, that’s for another discussion. Stepping aside from that ironic tangent, fight scenes are deceptively long. A single block focusing on a fight scene can be as long as 5 pages. Having many blocks for a single fight scene to break apart the many ebbs and flows can result in a single scene being 15-20 pages. This really becomes the meat for some chapters, whether they’re my 35 page casual pieces to the 50 and up page behemoths.
Understanding what goes into writing a solid fight scene will really help you plan ahead. Maybe you don’t need to explore this one bit of dialogue right away? Perhaps we can expose this truth a character came across in a later chapter? If you plan on having a fight scene in your chapter, you definitely want to keep in mind they’ll be taking up a lot of your time and energy. That brings me to the most excruciating portion of many of my later chapters and the reason why they sometimes climb into the 60 page range. Backstories.
I often won’t have a clue what I want them to be beforehand. It’s really difficult for me to know because of how deep I need to immerse myself in such a short time. After writing a lengthy chapter, I often won’t have more than an hour to devote to the block outline of the next chapter before going to bed. What comes out of this is often a single backstory running over 10 pages. Keep in mind, that block may have only been 3 sentences. If you’re going long form, that’s a pretty solid return! However, they can be the most straining. You’re pulling yourself away from the timeline and you don’t know how long you’ll be gone for. You know you have another 15 blocks and you eventually want to get moving. That’s why it’s important to hit those passion points and move on. This is a draft for a reason. You can also expand in later drafts. For a third time… that’s for another blog.
In short, a backstory is something you really need to look out for. They can vary dramatically in length depending on how vital the events are to shaping the character’s personality and where they’ll go as a result. If you have both a fight scene and a back story in a single chapter (shounen anime, anyone?), prepare for a long journey ahead. For me, they’re almost never under 40 pages and almost always over 50.
How long does it take to write a block?
This is definitely the big question. If you’re super organized and know what to look out for, you can really expect to write 50 pages of material in just one day, right? Yeah…, you definitely can. It’s important, though, to keep in mind how many words you can type in a single hour. Your own abilities will play the biggest factor in the end. I can write about 1,000 words per hour. Sometimes, closer to 15. This typically means I’m writing for 10-12 hours every day. That’s a long time in front of a computer and the strain of keeping your brain moving that intensely can really hurt. That’s why I really recommend having a game plan because 50 pages will become 75 if you don’t stay on course…and that’s not a page count I want to reach in a single day again.
Is the block like for me?
If this sounds like something you want to do, the block life will become you pretty fast. Most of your day is going to be spent writing your chapter and, for me, the tracks are pretty rigid. A 5 minute distraction can slow me by 30 in order to regain that highly demanding level of immersion. As a result, you’re not really going to be able to do or even think of much else aside from your work. The number of waking hours you have to reach your goal simply won’t allow it. This is really sounding like a nightmare now. I love my stories, but am I willing to give everything up for them?
It is a nightmare. I really don’t recommend doing this. People always seem jealous of how much content I can write in a day. They ask me how I do it? I tell them not to. It’s a terrible idea because it really isn’t for everyone. Why do I do it, then? Simple. I enjoy the nightmare. I love giving my everything to my stories and becoming a part of them. That’s what they need to be what I want. Distractions are very much that. Something that keeps me from writing the stories I want. A 50 page chapter will be my day, my night, and sometimes even less sleep if another obligation (like ghostwriting) comes around. That’s the level of devotion I want to give my work. It’s insane, but it’s my regiment and it could be yours if you’re really that serious about the monstrosity game.
You like blocks, huh? So, what’s next?
As you’ve guessed by my many talents (I really need the help swing focused), there are many other topics I’d love to discuss with you from crafting the perfect fight scene to understanding the importance of a backstory. If there’s something you’d like to see from me, please let me know and I can tell you how I approach them in my writing.
Feedback…of any kind?
This is my first blog post and, as such, it’s a bit of a mess and probably not what you were expecting. With that in mind, how would you like to see it improve? My goal is to not only show interested readers how I do things but some tips on how they can better their craft. If there’s a better way I can go about doing that, I’m open to improvement. That’s how we all become masters in the ancient art of storytelling…or something to that effect. I don’t know. I have more blocks to write now. I’ll see you next time!