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February 25, 2012
Posted at 9:12 am

End of a chapter or end of a story?

I've finished Chapter 6 of "Model Student" which means that for the first time since I started writing this story, I'm ahead. Chapter 5 will be posted tomorrow (Sunday) and Chapter 6 on Friday. I have a story outline for the full ten chapters, though of course my characters can't seem to read it. But I've been getting some interesting and overall supportive email.

First, let me say that I respond to every email. I really appreciate readers' comments and suggestions, so the least I can do is tell you that. But I don't mind getting an anonymous email at this point. Nobody's flaming me and the comments are just as valuable. One this week got me thinking about my style. Anonymous said, "I liked this chapter [4] though it definitely felt like a conclusion. Maybe the next six chapters should be part two?"

He/she has a point. It arises from the way I approached the story at the start. Every one of the first four chapters ended as if it was the conclusion to the story. It had to do with the fact that through the first three, I thought it was. But then there was always more story to tell so I'd write another chapter. I have a tendency to resolve the major point of conflict in each chapter and end it satisfyingly.

I recently read "Pete: A Young Man's Story," which is technically an active serial, but by the time you reach chapter 135, you'll be pissed at the author for taking four to six months between postings. But Magi is one of the masters at cliff-hanger chapter endings. "And then the phone rang." "There was no way I could avoid the car." etc. (I made those up--not direct quotes.) You automatically turn to the next chapter to keep reading and about 20 minutes later you're kicking yourself because you intended to put it down for a while and now you've just started the next chapter.

I did a lot better in Chapter 5 of "Model Student," and although there is a conclusion, there's also a hook for the next chapter. I re-read Chapter 6 after it came back from the editor, and I could see that I obviously took this chapter about 1,000 words too far. The natural break-point came with suspense and drama and I kept writing until it was resolved. So I changed it. I think overall it makes the writing stronger, but as a writer, it puts me 1,000 words into the next chapter before I quit writing.

So I'm wondering what you like and don't like when you read serials. It's one thing if you know it's finished and you can just turn the page as in a paperback book and keep reading. It's quite something else, though, if you have to wait a week (or 5 days in the case of "Model Student") to see if an author you're not really sure of will post the next chapter. What do you think?