Novel Writing

It’s okay to write a crappy chapter once in a while

English: A variety of computer mice built from...
Saved by the mouse. No, not that kind of mouse. | English: A variety of computer mice built from 1986 to 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day, I wrote a terrible chapter. I had reached the “All hope is lost lull” in the final quarter of my current project. It was time to write a chapter in which my protagonist loses all hope of escaping her hopeless situation. She was trapped in a cellar, with no way out. I wrote a couple of pages of her chasing a mouse around the cellar and counting her food supply. But it was really boring. Nothing was happening.

I pushed through it. I had shown my protagonist losing hope, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that absolutely nothing had “happened” in the chapter. It was about as crappy as a chapter can get. But I didn’t know what else to do with it, so I let it stand and went about my business.

I woke up the next morning thinking about that chapter. “Something has to happen in every chapter,” I kept telling myself. “The story has to continue to move forward in every scene.”

But how can I make something happen with a character who is trapped in a cellar alone? The possibilities seemed to be finite.

I had tried. Oh, I had tried. The situation seemed to preclude me from adding another human to the cellar for Valley to interact with. Enter mouse. The mouse was annoying. It gave her something to do. But moving food around the cellar in an attempt to flush out the mouse wasn’t enough. It didn’t move the story forward in any way.

I made coffee, fixed some breakfast. I collected my writing utensils and sat at the table to write the next chapter. I looked at my outline to remind myself of what was to happen next. Then I got an idea. I could take part of the next planned chapter and incorporate it into the previous day’s chapter. It was perfect. I found a way to make something happen in a chapter where absolutely nothing was happening.

It’s okay that I wrote that first boring chapter. It needed to happen. There were elements within this initial chapter that were absolutely necessary to the story, even though nothing was happening. I can always cut the boring parts later.

Oh, and one more thing. I realized there was a reason for that pesky mouse to show up and harass my protagonist. That darn mouse is going to help her find her way out of the cellar.

So, next time you feel like you’re writing a chapter in which nothing happens, just go with it. Write through it. Then move on to your next scene. An idea will hit you when you least expect it. The key is to keep writing forward.

~Amanda L. Webster

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3 thoughts on “It’s okay to write a crappy chapter once in a while”

  1. Seems as though I ran into the same quandary recently and told myself to just move on and work the “stalled” stuff out later on. I’ve found that many of my early scenes get developed better from things that take place in later chapters. (Does this make sense?} In short, I just keep writing and those ideas that seem to resolve the issues pop up unexpectedly–as you point out. Nice post! Now, I must get to work on my daily “stint.”

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