A Lot of Thoughts on a Little Chapter: Writing Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is a short, sweet little segment. Short, but nonetheless important. On my various attempts to start Capacitance, it was always a downfall of mine to try and insert too much world building right away; I wanted to open by describing the University campus, I wanted to describe Mara inch by detailed inch, etc. However, this is not what readers need–while some appreciate exposition, most do not want to be overloaded with information. They want action and discovery of the character through that action and carefully placed morsels of exposition. Enter Chapter 3; finally writing Capacitance in a sustainable manner, here in Chapter 3 we finally see some of these details come out.The first paragraph gives readers a sense of place as not only the time of year is set, but also the campus itself is fleshed out. This paragraph becomes necessary as this chapter is the segue into the world of the characters on the University–thus, the reader now knows the lay of the land they’ll be navigating. The architecture of the campus buildings is meant to be accessible; although the story is set in the future, I am not going for a spacey, hard sci-fi feel. Throughout the series, I am for a marriage of the familiar and the new.

This hits home even more in the description of Mara’s apartment. The panorama described in the first paragraph was brought into view by a polarized glass which shifts from opaque to clear depending on the time of day–this is obviously an example of speculative technology that most don’t have in their homes today. However, many people (albeit those wealthier than I!) have satin sheets and the luxurious fittings as seen in Mara’s bedroom.

With Mara herself, we don’t see anything too futuristic. I took the morning routine in Chapter 3 as an opportunity to describe her a bit more, and through this description to highlight some of her character attributes. You see that she is very fastidious about her personal appearance as well as being a bit of a wardrobe junkie! This attribute sets her apart from the stereotype–so often we think of the stereotypical female “nerd” with the terrible hairstyle and disheveled appearance, and Mara is breaking this stereotype. Her clothes in specific are another way I am keeping the tone of the story familiar and not too futuristic; the outfit I describe her putting on is vague yet specific, thus it’s a style that anyone could imagine, and it is certainly not outlandish. By playing down the futuristic element, my hope is to bring readers closer to the characters, and, later in the story, perhaps make them feel uncomfortably close to home as events play out.

I am explicating all these things here this morning in great detail, but I will admit something to you all–at the time I was writing Chapter 3, I thought of NONE of these things. They were, of course, abstractions in my mind of the overall theme of the work, but I did not agonize over each sentence, thinking to myself “Ok, I have to have the perfect blend of future and present.” I just wrote. And things flow very naturally when you are confident and know what you’re doing overall. For example, the character Langdon was someone I had never envisioned until the very moment I was writing Chapter 3 and he showed up walking down the hill to catch up with Mara. Who he was and his relationship with Mara just flowed very naturally out of my mind. The day after I had written Chapter 3, I thought to myself, “Wow that was a really stupid choice, Elise, it’s probably terrible.” So I fired up my computer and re-read Chapter 3, and to my surprise it just worked so well. Langdon was completely necessary and I appreciate my writer-instincts for telling me so. He adds another dimension to the world, as well as to Mara’s character–plus, he becomes more important later on…hint, hint! 😉

Isn’t it funny how many thoughts one very short chapter can bring up? I think the main theme–as it usually is–is to be confident in your craft and skill as a writer and let the rest take care of itself. Coming up tomorrow: another post on a book that has inspired me! Cheers! 🙂

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