Monday, February 26, 2018

Five Guidelines For A Great Chapter Two

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

Writers and writing teachers tend to focus a lot of attention on chapter one. I include myself in this list. I think this is partly because it's a very important chapter, but also because it's a bit easier to teach. Not easy to do well, of course, but there are a lot of story elements that need to be hit right away to draw a reader in, regardless of the genre or length of the work.

Once we get beyond the opening, the "how to" of crafting a good story can get a bit murkier.

Last week I talked about writing the first chapter in the context of how I can't do a good job of planning my story until I have written the first few chapters. The reason I need to write several chapters and not just the first is because that gives me time to explore several aspects of my characters' lives.

So, let's talk about what comes after that all-important chapter one. What elements are required to craft a great chapter two? Here are five guidelines:

Guideline #1: Show us different people.

 Lost Girl cover

If you're writing a book with just one point of view character, you will want to use chapter two to introduce more of your characters.
In The Lost Girl of Astor Street, chapter one introduces us to Piper's two closest friends, a boy she likes, her brother, and her housekeeper. Chapter two introduces another family in the neighborhood, her father, and some other characters.

If your book has multiple point of view characters, chapter two sets up a good opportunity to switch perspectives. There's no rule that you must, and sometimes it depends on the length of the work. For example, in an epic fantasy you might stay with your first point of view character for several chapters before switching, while in a shorter romance novel, you'll almost always switch perspectives at chapter two.

When you do switch to one of the other characters, whether it's chapter two or later, many of the same guidelines for chapter one apply. The introduction of this character will be most effective if you show them doing something that matters, something that's interesting, and so forth. You want to show what they want, what they need, and what's keeping them from it. And you want to show what their normalor their normalishlife looks like.

Most of the time you want all major characters introduced, or at least implied, in the first quarter of your book. By implied, I'm referring to characters who are mentioned or understood to exist without us ever seeing them, which is necessary in some situations. Like Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, or Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. We don't need to see them on the page, and that would make no sense for the story, but we do need to know they exist.

For my book, Within These Lines, I was unable to set up all major players as early as I normally would because Taichi's family had not yet been sent to the concentration camp. So it's okay to not do it, just make sure you have a reason why.

Guideline #2: Show us a different emotional side of your main character.

If chapter two is written in the same POV as chapter one, then you'll want to choose something that shows a different emotional side of this character. For The Lost Girl of Astor Street, in chapter one I showed Piper as sassy, clever, and in-control. In chapter two, when Piper comes across her best friend having a seizure, Piper is terrified, lost, and has no idea what to do.

When you show the reader different facets of your character, not only does it make your character feel more real, but it also helps to engage the reader more fully.

Guideline #3: Show us another place.

Unless this doesn't work with your story, you likely want to show the reader a new place in chapter two. If you're switching POV characters, the change of setting comes naturally, but it works well for stories told from just one perspective too.

Guideline #4: Show us a deepening.

In chapter one, you should have shown us what the character wants, what they need, and what's keeping them from that. Chapter two is a place to deepen these.

Maybe in chapter one, we caught a glimpse of your character wanting to get away from his hometown. In chapter two, show us yet another motivation for leaving.

And in addition to that, chapter two  is a good time to strengthen either the lie the character believes or whatever is holding them where they are. Building a strong lie is key to building a strong conclusion.

Guideline #5: Give us a greater understanding.

In the same vein as deepening those wants and needs, this is also a great opportunity to answer some questions you raised in chapter one.
Going back to chapter one of The Lost Girl of Astor Street, the reader knows that Piper's best friend has some kind of health issue, but they don't know what it is until chapter two when Piper finds her having a seizure. The reader now has a greater understanding of the situation.

For Within These Lines, in chapter one Evalina goes to the farmer's market like she does every Saturday morning to see Taichi, only his family isn't there. She's so scared that for the first time ever, she calls his house.

For chapter two, I wanted the readers to get a greater understanding of what an uncertain time this was, particularly for Japanese Americans and those who cared about them. I also wanted the readers to see Evalina and Taichi together so they would see their connection, so that's where I focused the attention.

How is your chapter two looking? Are there other guidelines you would add to this list?


  1. This is so helpful. I love this so much--when I get around to editing it will be AMAZING. Thanks, Stephanie! (Also: I really can't wait for Within These Lines!!!!!)

  2. I don't think I've ever read anything on "Chapter Two". I really enjoyed reading this and trying to apply it to all my books! Great food for thought :D

    1. Thank you, Keturah! I'm sure you already do a lot of it by instinct, but it can be helpful to see it spelled out too!

  3. This is an interesting idea. I had never really thought about chapter two. Thanks for this, I need to be thinking about this.

  4. This is super cool! This is the first time I've seen anyone has cover anything past the first chapter and it was so nice to read! Thanks for this. Now I've got a few ideas to fix up my second chapter!

  5. This is going to be so useful! I don't think I've ever read anything on making a great second chapter. Since I'm getting ready to start editing, this is perfect!

  6. Just what I needed, thank you!!! Do you have any posts about writing in past vs. present tense from the first person?

    1. This post seems like it could be helpful, Keilah:

  7. Thanks! I knew that chapter two was important (of course all chapters are), but I kind of thought it was a more low-key chapter one. You just continue setting up the story and introducing the important characters.

    1. It still needs to be intriguing, of course, but it serves a different purpose than chapter one. The reader is "bought in" enough to have stuck around for the second chapter, but you want to keep them turning pages!

  8. :) This is so helpful as I dive into chapter two of a new WIP! :)