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Example: I'm writing a story where the protagonist is searching for some information. She searches for it at her university, and fails. After that chapter, however, she finally finds someone who leads her into the right direction.

This was OK, but I thought: "Well, that was too easy and things went too fast. How about I add a second obstacle to the protagonist before she finds the right way?" So that's what I did: I added another chapter before the university chapter where the protagonist tries her luck at the library (note: this is just the beginning of the story).

Now, I'm aware that you shouldn't add chapters just for the sake of adding them. But I wonder, is it permissible in cases like this?

(By "OK" and "permissible" I mean adding value or improving the story).

  • Yes. And you and @TommyMyron should chat. :) writers.stackexchange.com/questions/16188/how-when-to-include-twists-when-developing-plot/16190 – Lauren Ipsum Feb 12 '15 at 11:48
  • @Lauren Ipsum Oh thanks, I'll read the answers to that question. (I think Tommy went to sleep. I don't see him in the chat.) – Alexandro Chen Feb 12 '15 at 13:10
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Personally, I would say another failed attempt will only be enjoyable for the reader, if it adds more than a mere slowdown.

You are hungry and on your way to lunch (= the reader is full of suspense and wants the protagonist to succeed). On your way to lunch your boss wants a word with you (= you insert a chapter into your novel). Will you enjoy talking to your boss while your stomach grumbles (= will the reader enjoy the additional reading)? Only if your boss gives you a raise or tells you that you can have your extra holiday, not if he has another job you need to do before you eat (= only if the added obstacle increases the value of the goal, adds a new twist to the storyline that turns the interpretation of the goal upside down, etc.).

From my experience I would say that adding a meaningful chapter will change everything that comes after it. If it does not change the outcome, it is superfluous and should be cut.

  • Great answer and fantastic analogy. I've read books which do delay the action of one plot, but you are right they always give me great action and story movement in the plot they move to. – raddevus Feb 18 '15 at 3:48
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Short answer: Yes.

Suppose you set out to write, say, a murder mystery. And your complete first draft was: "Sally Jones was found dead in an alley. A detective came to investigate. He found several important clues and realized that the murderer must be her boyfriend, Albert Fromme. The police arrested Fromme and he was convicted and sent to jail. The End." Well, that would be a pretty boring story because it goes way to fast and has way too little detail.

@PublicWireless says that you shouldn't add chapters just to "slow a story down" and that's true in a sense. Of course you don't want the reader to perceive the story as "slow". You want the reader to perceive the story as "building tension", "presenting many interesting facts", etc.

There are, I think, basically three ways to make a story longer other than just adding pointless material to waste time.

One: Add additional obstacles for the hero to overcome. In a mystery story, this could be false leads. In an action story, this could be additional opponents that the hero must fight along the way. In a romance, it could be a competing lover. Etc.

Two: Add character development or background. Tell us more about who the characters are and how they got to be this way. Or give additional detail about their environment. Like in a science fiction story, tell us about this planet.

Three: Add a counter-plot. If you have a plot that you think makes an interesting story but it's just too short and you don't see how to make it longer without sounding like you were just throwing in junk to make it longer, then make another story and intertwine the two. A really common thing done here is to throw in a romance. Like if the basic story is about, say, a man searching for lost treasure, you throw a female character in at some point, and as he's searching for the treasure he falls in love with this woman and you go back and forth between the treasure-hunting story and the romance story. They may have nothing to do with each other per se, other than both stories involving the same characters, though the more you can tie them together the better.

As with many things in writing, if you do this well, you get your story to the desired length, the reader considers it a satisfying experience, and hooray. If you do it poorly, the reader says, "Oh man, this book just keeps throwing in stupid irrelevant events just to waste time!"

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It's very important that when you add a chapter to your story, it has a point.

Now, this isn't a 'No' to your question; far from it. Instead, I'd suggest that if you do want to slow the pace and add and additional chapter, then it should serve some discernable purpose.

Some good advice I received a while back about writing was to never do anything unless it drives the story. The amount the story is driven, and which plot or subplot is driven by this chapter is up to you.

I'm reading a Sci-Fi book at the moment, and there's often chapters in there that are of no consequence to the story; the author is brilliant at building the world and these chapters serve to pad the world out phenomenally. However, as I'm ploughing through these chapters, I can't help feeling a little deflated that the exciting plot has been 'stalled' for no reason other than worldbuilding.

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If these proposed chapters are slow, boring and have little to do with the actual story, then you should not add them for the sake of making the story longer.

However, fictional writing is all about the journey. In high fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings, the endgame is returning the one ring to Mordor. If Frodo and Sam were just able to walk down the post office and mail the ring to Mount Doom, then there really would not be much of a story.

The thing you want to avoid is adding filler for the sake of adding filler. If you, the author of the book is not enthusiastic about the content you will be adding, then chances are that neither will be the reader.

There are literally an infinite amount of ways you can extend this without having it seem like it is just dragging. Some examples could be having some kind of a flashback, or a non sequitur. You could also have your character diverge off of the original path. Maybe she slips on the ice and hits her head and goes into a coma. Perhaps she decides to play the lottery and hits the jackpot.

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You're actually asking 2 different questions:

  1. Is it OK to add chapters to slow down the pace of the story?

    When you say 'slow' that's not a good sign. You want to generate excitement and keep the reader engaged. Anything that slows the pace risks causing your reader to lose interest and stop reading. Keep in mind that given your characters, plot arc, and themes, the questions you need to ask are does your chapter/passage give the reader new information that enhances the aforementioned and will it be interesting to the reader (funny, enlightening, insightful, entertaining, etc.) so they are compelled to keep reading. Note that in your case you can most definately add a red herring that goes off on a tangent from the main arc as long as it serves some other purpose like character development, is entertaining, and you're able to transition back smoothly.

  2. Can you add chapters just for the sake of adding them?

    Don't ever add anything just for the sake of making something longer. It has to serve some purpose such as contribute to your main theme, develop your characters in a way that advances your plot and themes, add suspense (suspense novel), be funny (comedy), etc. You get the idea.

  • I mainly agree. One thing I've noticed, though, is that sometimes when the pace of a story is slow the reader feels as if the story is "happening" to them. But it has to be done carefully and correctly, I think. – Alexandro Chen Feb 13 '15 at 1:29
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If you have "too few chapters," it's probably a sign that your story doesn't have enough complexity. Here's an example of how to re-work it.

Act I, Scene I: The heroine needs some information to solve a problem.
Act I, Scene II: The heroine looks for, and fails to find the information.
Act I, Scene III: The heroine finds the information but it fails to solve her problem.

Act II, Scene I: The heroine redefines her problem.
Act II, Scene II: The heroine begins a new information search.
Act III, Scene III: The heroine still fails to solve the problem, but meets the hero as a "consolation prize.

Act III, Scene I: The hero takes over the problem-solving exercise.
Act III, Scene II: Heroine finally solves the problem with help of hero.
Act III, Scene III: Heroine gets hero as added bonus (if that's what she wants), or else the chance to "dump" him.

Note how I took your basic story (Act I) and tripled it in length.

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