Friday, May 25, 2007

How Do You Save Your Chapters?

I’m doing something new with the two books I’m currently writing. I’m only actively working on the fourth Sebastian mystery at the moment, but I have the second thriller at proposal stage (about 80 pages, which is long for my proposals), so technically I’m writing two books. Anyway, I’m taking a new approach to the way I save my chapters. Why? Well, I wasn’t happy with my old method.

Yonkers ago, when I first started writing historical romances, I saved each chapter as a separate document. It did not work well. I was always dividing old chapters that grew too long into two or three shorter chapters, inserting new chapters, moving chapters, renumbering chapters… In other words, it was a royal pain and often a confused mess. Then I sold my first book and my publisher wanted my book on disk, saved in ten chapter chunks. I complied and began saving my chapters that way when I wrote.

It worked slightly better, but only slightly. What was originally saved as “Chapters 21-30” frequently became in reality something like Chapters 23-34. Still a confused—and confusing—mess.

My newest publisher wants my thrillers on a CD saved as only one document. Slamming it all together was, predictably, a pain, and probably helped motivate me to rethink what I was doing. I’m not about to save my work in progress as one single document—I find 400 pages simply too unwieldy. But I’ve come up with a scheme that holds out promise of being much more manageable.

I’m dividing my new books into chunks that I’ve called, for lack of a better term, Acts. Not the structured acts of Aristotle or even Syd Fields, but my own Acts. Basically I’m dividing the book into story blocks that are distinct in some way. Each Act ends at a turning point in the story. Because these turning points are fairly set by the plot, I don’t anticipate I’ll be doing much shifting of chapters between Acts. And because these sections are simply labeled Act One, Act Two, etc, it won’t matter if I add, divide, or delete chapters within them.

So far, it seems to be working well. I don’t know why I clung to my old method for so long. I’m beginning to think that after one has been writing for a certain length of time, it’s a good idea to change some habits, shake things up, come at this métier from a slightly different angle.

So how about you? How do you save your chapters?


Steve Malley said...

That post gave me a little frisson of possibility. I mean, I think of story in Acts. Why not write in them?

What's working for me lately is writing in Roughdraft and saving a chapter at a time. Its features take a lot of the pain out of shuffling.

Editing I do with pencil, printout and pad of paper.

Submission stuff, I paste my chapters into Word. Hopefully without too many embarrassments...

Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, interesting. Never thought of doing it that way. I started out saving a chapter to a file, but like you've I had problems with adding or deleting chapters, and then I had to put them all together when it was time to submit them. The stuff I'm working on now will be the whole book in a single chapter, which may be OK for me since I tend to write shorter books. If I do another longer book, though, I think I'll break it into "parts" in the text and save each part in a separate file.

Kate S said...

Interesting. I have some friends who save chapters at a time, but most, like me, just have one big document.

If I have an idea that I want to get down that comes much further in the story, I'll sometimes save that to a separate file and merge in later, but for the most part, I just write straight through.

Chap O'Keefe said...

I use a very old version of WordPerfect that I've "imported" to my present computer from an earlier one. The words appear on the screen in an old-fashioned typewriter face and I'm sure there are many things I can't do that I could with a later program. But it suits me fine. A book has always been just one document/file for me. I can move material around easily enough, and I go to this chapter or that chapter, or anything else, by using the search keys.

Anonymous said...

I write the whole book as one document - always have. I use Wordperfect which puts Word to shame. The file isn't unwieldy as long as you have a fast enough processor on the computer. Also, I use symbols to mark certain passages so I get to them quickly if I'm revising, and I use the search feature to find any part of the book I want, including chapter headings. I divide the file later based on what the publisher requests.