This post first appeared in Katherine Vick's blog.
There is something I feel the need to address.
I have been chastised. Gently, it is true. But chastised I was, by two different persons on the same matter upon their reading my beloved opus, The Disposable. And I felt I had to take heed given they had both offered up the same complaint – why, oh why in creating my masterpiece had I not provided them with any decent places to stop reading? Because, as you may have noticed, The Disposable is on a roll. It has no chapters.
So here I am, finding it necessary to try and explain myself. Why did I do this? That, at least, is simple. Because it suited the nature of the beast.
I know I’m far from the first to abandon chapters. Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my writing heroes, was there long before me. I can’t recall ever seeing anywhere whether he ever stated his reasons for doing it, but I do know it suited the anarchic nature of his work to a tee. And I had a feeling the same would be true for me.
I realised fairly early on that a standard narrative structure just wasn’t going to work for The Disposable. The simple fact was this was the story of my characters stumbling away from a normal novel and into a slightly chaotic, definitely unplanned series of adventures. A straightforward chapter structure just didn’t work for that. It broke up the momentum. My intention was for The Disposable to feel like a bit of a runaway train, barreling out of control from event to event like a mad pinball on the bounce. And I wanted the reader to have a similar experience to the characters in that regard. I wanted the narrative to flow and flood and push the reader on. Although section breaks were necessary for both your sanity and mine, chapters were not. Putting in chapter breaks felt like putting up walls in the text. They went.
But I also felt it was important to contrast what should be happening along with what was. To show the deviations from what was intended compared to what was actually going on. So I decided that once or twice a book, I would take a pause, a chance for you, me, and the characters to have a breather and regroup. I would halt the train and show a section of the Taskmaster’s original novel plan, just to illustrate how things would have been had Fodder not gotten somewhat annoyed with his lot in life. It probably didn’t help much for those of you trying to find a good spot to pause for the night, but it was acceptable to me.
But there was an odd side effect of abandoning chapter structure for so long. I found I liked writing that way. It was liberating. I enjoyed not being constrained by the need to finish a chapter in one session, not having any fixed point to reach. It allowed me more breathing space, more capacity to play. I have always been a writer whose planning process is never quite able to contain the end result – to illustrate the point, my Plot Bandits Trilogy was a single novel when I first planned it out! – and the constant readjusting of chapters and plot placement had always been a bugbear as my work inevitably expanded. I liked the freedom a lack of chapter breaks gave me. Much like Fodder, I felt like I had found my own way forward.
And indeed, I’ve struggled to go back. My new, very slow, barely started project was initially written in the same way, a chapterless mass. I realised later on that this more structured story probably needed breaks and so I went through and inserted some at appropriately spaced points. But I’ve made no plans for stopping points ahead. The breaks will fall where they fall. I’m not going back…
So for those of you who have struggled to find a good spot to bookmark, my apologies. But honestly, I did have good reasons!
Thinklings here again: Part of the way we celebrate diversity in writing is to embrace unique writing styles! (While never compromising on quality.) All people are not wired the same way, so why should all books have the same structure? We dare to go where the mainstream fears to flow!