Another area of my Smith manuscript that needs some work is my division of its 13,000 words into chapters. I’ve currently got six, plus an introduction, but it’s not enough.
The first couple of chapters feel like the right length — four double-spaced pages each. But the rest of the manuscript consists of 8- to 12-pagers that just seem to go on forever.
When I wrote this most recent draft last summer, the organization made sense thematically. Each of the six chapters covered a distinct developmental period in Smith’s life, art and career. And if I was writing for an adult audience that was already familiar with Smith, this organization would probably work, with a little tightening and brightening (and snappier chapter titles than “Chapter 4”).
But most young readers won’t know the first thing about Smith and will probably need some convincing that he’s as important a figure as I think he is. That’s where having more and briefer chapters might come in handy — each chapter’s beginning, when the narrative has already been briefly interrupted, could offer a chance to make a little more of my case.
Plus, shorter chapters are easier to digest, a fact that was driven home to me last night when I read Sneed B. Collard III‘s recent The Prairie Builders. It’s an excellent book, a joy to read. The chapters are so focused and engaging that the end of each came as something of a surprise, rather than as a relief. By that standard, Mr. Smith and I still have a ways to go.
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