So you have a killer book idea, and you’ve gone through the mind mapping and outlining processes. Now it’s time to begin writing.
Of course, the actual writing is the hardest part for non-experienced writers. In this blog, though, we’re going to explain the best way to make the writing aspect of self-publishing a breeze.
We’re going to show you how to write a good chapter. My tips will mostly be useful for non-fiction authors but could also be executed for fiction.
This guide to writing a nonfiction book chapter covers:
- Why do you need good nonfiction chapters?
- Follow your mindmap and outline
- Cover one topic in each chapter
- Complete a thorough self-edit
- How to write a good chapter for a fiction book
- Keep your paragraphs short
- Keep your chapter length under control
- Name your chapters
- Get ready to start writing
Why do you need good nonfiction chapters?
This should be pretty obvious, but it’s always good to start with the basics. Chapters will give your book structure. Without them, it’s hard to keep your thoughts organized.
That’s why chapters are necessary, and if we have chapters in our book, obviously we want them to be good. Good chapters will lead to a good and even great book.
With that, let’s dive into how to construct a good chapter.
Three main steps to writing a good chapter:
- Follow your Mindmap & Outline
- Stay on one point while writing until reaching a finished thought, then move to the next
- Complete a thorough self-edit
Follow these three main steps, and you will be well on your way to creating a good chapter. Repeat the process, and you will have a very good manuscript.
Follow your mindmap and outline
There’s a reason why Self-Publishing School first teaches its students to mindmap and then outline their book before beginning the rough draft. Mindmapping creates a roadmap for your book while constructing an outline then connects those roads and essentially gives them names.
Here’s the beginning of the outline for my first book, His World Never Dies: The Evolution of James Bond.
If done correctly, the book structure is right in the mindmap and outline. It’s time to put those ideas in longer words on-page in the form of a rough draft.
The mindmap and outline should also ensure that each idea goes into the correct chapter. As important as the next step (staying with one topic within a chapter before moving to the next) is to write a good chapter, it’s even more vital that there aren’t any loose thoughts or ideas that belong in a different section of the book.
Good outlines should prevent this from happening.
Cover one topic in each chapter
This step is most critical for rookie writers. Inexperienced writers have a tendency to bounce back and forth between ideas. That’s not a recipe for success.
When beginning your rough draft, make sure you complete your thoughts, writing down every teenie, weenie concept you may have of an idea before moving on to what’s next.
Think of writing the same way you did mind mapping. During that step, you should have written down every thought you could conceive for every general idea, which will eventually become all of your chapters. Writing works the same way.
Don’t put a limit to how many paragraphs you need for an idea — write as many (or few) graphs as you need to convey your point.
Of course, you could reach a point of redundancy, but that’s alright in the rough draft process. It’s easier to cut than it is to add. Just make sure to stay on point and transition smoothly from one idea to the next.
Tip: In order to execute those smooth transitions, use transition words such as next, secondly, thirdly, then, etc.
You can also use conjunctive adverbs such as however, but, although, even though, despite, moreover, furthermore, etc.
Here’s a more extensive list of conjunctive adverbs:
However, (see what I did there) keep conjunctive adverbs such as however, but, and despite, to a minimal. If you use them constantly, it’s going to seem like you are contradicting every single point you make.
Second Tip: If you are still having trouble bouncing back and forth between numerous ideas, it might be best to breakdown that chapter into multiple chapters. We’ll dive into an example later.
Complete a thorough self-edit before submitting to an editor
After finishing the rough draft, it’s going to be very tempting to immediately send the manuscript to an editor. But it’s not ready. The last major step to writing a good chapter is self-editing that chapter.
You’re in luck because I also wrote a SPS blog post on self-editing. Please refer to that post for more details, but essentially, the self-edit process helps you double-check all of your work.
In the self-editing phase, you will complete several different verbal read-throughs, ensuring that each chapter stayed on point with no loose ideas that actually belong in a different section of the book. Yes, you should also catch grammar and spelling mistakes while self-editing but checking for chapter structure is arguably more critical.
Any decent editor will be able to catch grammar or spelling errors. It will take a more advanced editor to provide advice on paragraph order and chapter structure.
Through self-editing, you can also trim any of the redundancies that you may have made while originally writing your rough draft.
How Step 3 in “How to Write a Good Chapter” Process Helped Me
When I wrote my first book, His World Never Dies: The Evolution of James Bond, my first chapter was a bit of a mess during my rough draft phase. That’s because I tried to tackle too many ideas at once.
During the outlining phase, it seemed natural to explore the popularity of the James Bond film series and how the series’ portrayal of masculinity has changed over the years into the same chapter. Bond’s masculinity is a major reason why so many men and women have loved the series over the last 57 years.
But during my self-edit, it felt as though I was bouncing between these two ideas — Bond’s popularity and masculinity — too much. The chapter felt clunky and even longer.
What’s worse, it was the first chapter of my book. I couldn’t have my audience believing my first chapter was too long and confusing.
Therefore, I decided to break that first chapter into two. That helped me stay focused on one idea. It ultimately led to a very successful first two chapters in my book.
How to Write a Good Chapter for a Fiction Book
So far through this blog, we’ve focused on writing a good chapter for non-fiction books. Fiction is a little different. Rather than forming arguments or making points, fiction authors are telling a story.
For more information on constructing fiction books, please refer to the Self-Publishing School expert, R.E. Vance, and his numerous blog posts.
To get you started, though, you can use these same basic concepts to writing a good chapter for fiction. Following your mindmap/outline and self-editing are key for both fiction and non-fiction.
The middle step is the biggest difference, but the essential premise of the step is the same. Keep your key story elements together and ensure to tell the story in order (unless it’s portrayed in some unusual flashbacks).
Other Things to Keep in Mind to Write a Good Chapter:
- Keep paragraphs on the short end
- Limit chapters to 3,000-4,000 words
- Every good chapter could use a good title
These last three things can take a good chapter and make it great.
#1 – It’s alright to keep paragraphs to 1-3 lines
These first two things are really style preference, but for me, shorter paragraphs and chapters are better.
Millennial readers don’t like big bulky paragraphs. How do I know? Well, I’m one of them.
Books are a little different, but with web writing, short graphs are essential because it’s easier to skim, which is often all readers have time to do.
This can apply to books in the digital age because so many people now read e-books. Shorter graphs look more appealing and less daunting on an electronic screen.
We don’t want to encourage people to skim your book, but if there’s ever a question of, “should I make this one paragraph or two?” make is two!
#2 – Keep your chapter-length under control
Remember when you were a kid, and you were reading a really long book for English class? What was the very first thing you did before reading a chapter?
If you are anything like me, the first thing you did was count how many pages you needed to read to get to the next chapter. It was so painful when that next chapter was 20, 25, or even 30 pages away.
Because nobody wants to pause a book in the middle of a chapter. Longer chapters could mean a long time until getting a break.
Now, that doesn’t mean we want to give our readers opportunities to stop reading. But similar to 1-3 line paragraphs, shorter chapters will make the reader feel more accomplished.
If someone asked me would I rather read a 200-page 10-chapter book or 200-page 20-chapter book, I’d definitely pick the latter.
For a slow reader like me, it will make me feel like I’m reading through the book faster, thus making it a more enjoyable experience, if I can get through each chapter quicker.
Tip: Keep in mind that these style choices won’t matter if the content isn’t good.
It won’t matter, though, if you have nice short paragraphs and chapters if your chapter doesn’t make any sense or bounces between too many ideas.
The first two steps are far more important than the length of graphs and chapters.
#3 – Name your chapters
The very last thing to a good chapter is a title. When I say the very last thing, it’s the very last thing, and it’s not even necessary all the time. This is completely optional!
Don’t get caught up in what to call the chapter before writing it. Often times, it’s going to change anyway. Following your mindmap and outline, each author should have an idea of what each chapter is about, but there are alterations made during the writing process.
Just like in journalism, I rarely give my sports stories a name before writing them. If I did that, I’d spend the entire time writing to the title.
Write about what you want to write. Make the points you wish. Then decide on a title that fits what you just wrote — if you even want one. They aren’t necessary but a nice added feature.
Are you ready to start writing your good chapter TODAY?
Obviously, we all want to write good chapters. That leads to a good manuscript and then a good/great book.
Following these steps, you can get to the point where you are writing good chapters with ease.
If you’re ready to start (finish) and publish your book, we can help!
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