But they can also cause a lot of trouble.
Right now, for instance, I’m working on what I call a “bridge” chapter in Fred and Lily’s story. And by that I do not mean a chapter about a bridge, but rather, a chapter that IS a bridge.
Let me explain.
I was marching merrily along, turning out one chapter after another at a very satisfying pace. To use a popular British term, everything was just “brilliant.” And then, suddenly, I glanced over my shoulder and realized that at a certain point back along the trail I’d crossed a river without taking the time to stop and build a bridge. In other words, I’d made such a long leap between one chapter and the next that the story simply moved too fast. I was in danger of leaving my readers feeling like they’d missed an important step. Like they’d suddenly found themselves on the far side of a river without quite remembering how they managed to cross it.
Now it is always frustrating for me to stop going forward when I’m on a roll, and turn back to fix something several chapters behind me. But it is absolutely painful when I don’t just need to “fix” a chapter, but write a whole new one from scratch! Why? Because a bridge chapter is not at all like the usual kind.
A normal chapter, written in sequential order, will build on the chapters behind but have a great deal of freedom to take form as it pleases. It will then be the job of the following chapters to do the same. A regular chapter, basically, is more like a sculpture. You may be building it on a set foundation with a vague idea of where it should go, but there is a vast expanse of possibilities to work with. In other words, you know exactly where you must begin, but there is no rigid boundary for where you must end.
A bridge chapter, in contrast, must begin where the previous chapter left off, and then end EXACTLY where the following chapter begins. It must fit seamlessly with both sides. Otherwise, it is not a bridge.
But that’s not all. To further complicate matters, it must also, within those tight confines, still somehow be beautiful and exiting enough in itself that the readers will actually enjoy the bridge. They must not be left to simply plod patiently over it, disinterested, keeping on only because they are looking forward to the rest of the story.
And then there are bridges. The first kind simply gets you where you are going, without adding any pleasure to the trip. The second, while accomplishing the same task, becomes a work of art all by itself!
And that is the trouble with bridges. They must live up to the artistic standards of the rest of the chapters, while being bound by twice the restrictions the others were under. Which is why, I suppose, this chapter is taking me more than twice as long as the last few I wrote. I keep starting to build the bridge, and then deciding the last few bricks I laid aren’t artistic enough. So I take them back out, rework them, and lay them back on, only to find that they now don’t match the other bricks I put in earlier, or worse, want to take the whole bridge in the wrong direction!
But I guess I just have to keep on working, one brick at a time, keeping my eyes on that waiting shore. And eventually, when it’s finished, the bridge should do it’s job so well that even those of you who’ve read this post won’t be able to spot it in the book. It will blend in seamlessly.
And you will simply go blissfully on, into the story…