WRITING: How to begin and end a chapter – my process of structuring a book.

I often get question on how I write, how I know what I put in or take out, how I know when to end a chapter and begin a new one… This blog post explains how I turn the messy first draft of a book into a manuscript that is structurally sound.

With my first book, that  I wrote in Word, I wrote long scenes that would become chapters. I had three different plot lines – the assassin (A), her client (B), and the investigators, (C). Back then, I was convinced that the right thing was to make the first chapter about the main character, and alternate the main characters chapters with the antagonist chapters. So chapter 1 was about A, chapter 2 about B, chapter 3 about A again, chapter four about C, chapter five about A again. That way, fifty percent of the chapters  were about A, twenty-five percent about B and twenty-five percent about C.
With my second book, (where the antagonists are planning a hostile takeover of the legitimate business of my assassin main character), I wanted to write a prologue where the firm’s bookkeeper was pressured to arrange a meeting between the MC and the antagonists, but instead of a prologue (which many readers seem to skip), I made the prologue my first chapter, and my MC appeared in the second chapter. I did the same thing with the fourth book, where something seemingly unrelated happened at the other side of the world, and in the second chapter our MC appears and …
Another thing I started doing from the second book on was that I stopped writing a linear story. I had bought writing software called Scrivener, and I could write scenes and switch them around by dragging them to different positions in the ‘binder’. Freed from the restriction of one long file that would be cumbersome to switch scenes around, I enjoyed the freedom of writing key scenes and then figure out what would happen in between and write those scenes. The scenes would differ in length, but I wasn’t concerned about that, especially in the drafting phase – where I used to edit while I wrote, I stopped doing that and wrote scene after scene, just putting an @ between scenes. Later I’d cut the whole text into scenes and give them a temporary spot in the binder. Scrivener allow me to make ‘folders’ which would become the chapter, and I could put in what scenes I wanted, measure whether the chapter wouldn’t become too bloated.
Now I would make a chapter about a certain location and/time, put the scenes in, switch them around in the order I liked best, and create another chapter folder with other scenes. I got positive reviews about the second and third book (the fourth is due out on December 1st), so apparently I was doing something right.
I say, apparently, because, despite being praised for my meticulous detail, verisimilitude and tight plots, I’m a total ‘panther’ – while I have a general idea of the direction the story will take, I don’t outline anything. I write scenes that throw up obstacles for my characters and have snowballs that seem of no importance become avalanches of action that mess up the lives of both the characters and the people around them. That keeps the stories from becoming formulaic and keeps the story fresh to me, so that I won’t become bored – bored writers write terrible books.
Generally, at this point, my books have chapters that may contain 1-5 scenes, all in the same location or time. Most scenes just begin and end, so that after I string 2-3 together and decide that they belong together and make them into a chapter, I will have chapters that begin in the middle of action, and end ‘somewhere’.
I turn drafts into e-drafts that I can read on my e-reader, where I can highlight with my finger and add notes with the built-in keyboard, but I cannot change the text itself.
In the pre-digital age, a writer would take a manuscript and a red pencil and write the editing notes on the pages. I do the same thing, except that an e-reader will make lists of all the notes I made that make editing easier. When I read the e-draft, I often find glaring mistakes, scenes/paragraphs that should be in a different place et cetera. When I’m satisfied with the order the story is told in and the chapters and scenes are more or less fixed, then I will check whether the chapter doesn’t begin too abruptly (put in a few sentences to ‘set the scene’) and ends in a way that readers cannot wait to turn to the next chapter.
When I think I cannot improve the manuscript anymore, my trusted beta readers will read the book and give me their feedback. Meanwhile I often work on another project. When the feedback arrives, I read it through and often change scenes and do some re-writing of scenes to improve the flow, but structurally very little changes.
And then I have a book that is ready for public consumption.
If you think other people can benefit from the information in this article, don’t hesitate to share this article using the social media buttons below…
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PREVIEW: First chapter of GHOSTING

The beta version of GHOSTING, the fourth novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series, is ready. The novel can be pre-ordered for delivery December 1st (just click the cover below the sample). Below, you can find the first chapter – I welcome feedback, so don’t hesitate to comment on this post:

JAMAICA

Running flat-out gained Daniel Catadupa some distance on his pursuers as he ran down the dusty Negril forest road towards the coast. Just his rotten luck the car had broken down along West End Road. Still, Cain’s dive shop was not far. He might be able to make it on foot if only he could take a short break. The only living soul between West End and the coast was Mama Benga—an old witch living in a ramshackle old shed where she let her goats roam free. He burst from the forest at breakneck speed and ran around the house.
No place to hide, except…
Daniel dropped on the hard-packed dirt. Without glancing backward, he flattened himself on his belly and crawled feet first under the cracked wooden porch. Pushing refuse out of his way with his feet, he crawled backward into the darkness, the smell of rotting vegetation trying to invade his nose.
While he tried to get his breathing under control, the running footsteps came closer, slip-sliding around the corner, and the three men came to a skidding stop. Daniel stopped crawling. He was still under the porch, not in the deep darkness under the house proper. Hopefully none of them figured out where he was.
“Rass!” the leader exclaimed. “Bone, go deah, Reggie, go deah.”
The men sped off in different directions, but the leader stayed where he was. Lying motionless under the porch, Daniel looked at the mud-splattered tip of the gleaming ebony cane next to the gnarled feet, the soles thick with callouses from decades of walking barefoot.
He shivered.
Barefoot Duke didn’t carry the cane to support himself, he could run as fast as men half his age. No, that black cane was a symbol of his authority, and most people feared Duke’s cane more than the machetes of his henchmen. With Sista Someday’s right hand man after him, Daniel knew he’d fucked up royally.
Overhead the wooden boards creaked and an old voice spoke, “Duke, is that you?”
“It is I, womahn. Go back inna dem house.”
“Who you be looking for?” The old woman coughed, hawked up phlegm and spat on the floor. “And what him done now?”
“No business of you, womahn. Go inna tha house now.”
Wetness moistened his cheek and Daniel glanced up at a glistening string of phlegm leaking through the warped floorboards. He gagged, but remained motionless.
The gnarled feet came closer and the cane rapped the floorboards. “You deaf, womahn? Inna tha house. Now.”
“You no catch him, Duke.” He could hear the sarcasm in her voice. “Him run like the devil be chasing.”
“You see him then,” Duke said. “Which way him run?”
“You think I help you catch dem poor boy?” The old woman spat again, the gob of phlegm hitting the dirt between Duke’s bare feet. “You play at mystic mahn all you wants, I know you when you was a raggamuffin boy scrounching for scraps.”
“Betta shut dem big mouth, old womahn.”
“You betta respect elders, raggamuffin boy. You think you scary with your scowl?”
Duke’s feet moved closer and the floorboards sagged as he stepped onto the porch. “I respect elders, not scummy old scabs with potty mouths.”
“I no invite you on my porch, ragamu—” A sharp crack was followed by a heavy thump right overhead and Duke whispered, “Told you, old womahn.”
Daniel turned on his back, staring up through a crack in the floorboards. He could see the wrinkled greyish skin of Mama Benga’s arm. Above it floated the scowling face of Duke. His pinprick eyes seemed to look straight at Daniel and his face was contorted in rage. Mama Benga moaned and Daniel watched in mute horror as Duke lifted his cane over his head and whacked the old woman’s body, over and over again.
Blood seeped through the floorboards and splattered his face and something broke inside him. Like a frightened animal, Daniel scrambled away to the back of the house, no longer caring about being silent.
As he crawled out from under the house, Duke came running around the corner, screaming his name in fury. Without thinking, Daniel scooped up a handful of mud and threw it at the older man. The mud hit Duke right in the face and open mouth. Seizing the moment, Daniel charged, his bodycheck slamming Duke against the ramshackle shed. As the man fell, Daniel spun away, but not quick enough. Duke’s ebony cane whacked him in his side and Daniel felt something snap in his side. Fear gave him an adrenalin rush and he leaped into the bushes, blindly crashing through the foliage.
“CATADUPAAAAA!” Duke bellowed in rage. “You a DEAD mahn!”
From the frying pan into the fire, Daniel thought as he ran through the forest, branches sweeping into his face and tugging his dreads. Duke and his henchmen ran behind him in hot pursuit, close enough to hear them cussing as they used their machetes to clear their way. He was still ahead, but they seemed to be closing in. Pain stitched his left side, where Duke’s cane had whacked him.
Suddenly he was clear of the forest, but the situation had not improved. His blind panic had led him straight to the cliffs. He sprinted along the edge of the cliffs, not looking at the ocean slamming into the rocks below.
No shelter.
Something whistled past him, followed by the crack of a gunshot.
Fresh adrenalin flooded his body and he ran like the wind, ignoring the pain in his side. Running like the devil was chasing him, as Mama Benga put it. She was an old woman and Duke beat her to death for insulting him. Daniel had no doubt that his fate would be worse if they caught up with him.
Something tugged at his clothes and sliced the skin of his hip, but he couldn’t stop. Another gunshot came from his left. Instinctively he swerved to the right, not realising his mistake until he ran out of land.
At the edge of the cliff, Daniel whirled around.
Fifty yards away, Duke strode towards him, his trademark scowl visible as he bridged the distance on his long legs. Like eager puppies, his henchmen flanked Duke, but a few steps in front of him. As if he wanted to prolong the moment, Duke’s stride seemed to slow to a leisurely stroll. Panic froze Daniel until Reggie pointed a gun at him. Duke whistled sharply and the henchman lowered his arm, his grin a white flash in his dark face, but the spell was broken.
Daniel looked behind him. The ocean crashed into man-sized rocks that looked like pebbles from this height. He took a few steps towards his pursuers, then turned and sprinted to the edge.
Duke yelled and gunshots cracked as Daniel closed his eyes and dived, his arms whipping forward.
For a moment, his body seemed suspended in flight, and he heard the voice of his old physics teacher. ‘The problem is not that humans cannot fly, but that they cannot land’.
Gravity reappeared and Daniel plunged down, his clothes flapping in the wind that tore the tears from his closed eyes.
Jah, be merciful.
Dark death embraced him in her cold arms and squeezed the breath from his body.

aas-ghosting


Excerpt from the new standalone noir, In Pocket:

Around nine-thirty, I entered Small Talk, a luncheonette at the corner of Van Baerlestraat and Willemsparkweg, ordered an espresso and went upstairs to the first floor.
Lilith followed me inside and added a cappuccino to my order. She sat down across from me, took a brush from her shoulder bag and brushed back her damp hair. After dabbing her face with a tissue, she unbuttoned her jeans jacket. Her nipples jabbed the damp fabric of her T-shirt. She shivered and gave me a reproachful look which I ignored. It wasn’t my problem if she didn’t know how to dress for this fickle weather.
“So how many did you take?”
I sipped my espresso. “You didn’t count them?”
“Seven?”
“You’re guessing,” I said. “I told you to observe indirectly, not to let your attention wander.”
Lilith leaned forward, her damp breast touching my jacket. “Could we drop the hostilities?”
I looked into her pleading eyes. “You think I’m being hostile? You blackmail me into instructing you while you have absolutely no aptitude whatsoever for my profession. I’m wasting time I don’t have on this farce, so—considering the circumstances—I think I’m downright congenial.”
“Listen, I’m sorry if I came on like a bitch, but I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t desperate. Have you never been desperate?”
“Never.”
“Lucky you.” Lilith slouched in her chair, her gaze on the tabletop. “I never had any luck.”
“Spare me your life story. Save it for someone who actually gives a shit.”
I could see she wanted to punch me, but her desire to stay in my good graces apparently got the better of her. She rested her chin in her hands and studied me. “How about yours?”
“My life story?” I snorted. “Nothing to tell.”
“Nothing?” She looked up, tilted her head. “I find that hard to believe.”
I shrugged.
“Why don’t you tell me how you become a pickpocket?”
“How?” I smirked. “I became a pickpocket by sticking my hand in other people’s pockets.”
“You don’t want to tell me?”
I finished my espresso. “See? You can be perceptive, with a little effort.”
“Are you going to be like this all day?”
“What did you expect? That I’d ‘revel’ in teaching you my ‘craft’?”
“I’m sorry if I’m a nuisance.”
“You’re not sorry. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. I’m not an idiot.”
“I mean it.”
“No, you don’t. If you were truly sorry, you’d get up and get out of my life.”
“I can’t. I need this. I need you.”
I shook my head. “I was just the sucker who made a mistake in your vicinity. Now I have to pay for it.”
I got up and she followed me to the counter, where she paid for both our coffees. I didn’t thank her, but led the way to the nearest tram stop. The rain turned into a steady drizzle and I noticed she was still shivering in her thin jacket.
She rubbed her arms. “Where will we go now?”
“Albert Cuyp. You bruise easily?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Just answer the question.”
“If I’m knocked about I’ll bruise, but I don’t plan on getting caught.”
I shot her a scornful look. “Never heard of ‘collision theft’?”
“You want me to bump into someone and pick his pocket?”
“You bump into the mark. Extracting wallets is my department.”
“Oh. Okay, no problem.”
I scowled. “We’ll see.”

In Pocket cover by Farah Evers


ARC In Pocket, now available for reviewers.

Are you a book reviewer and interested in an ARC of In Pocket? Send an email with ‘ARC reviewer In Pocket’, and maybe you can get In Pocket a month early (publication date August 1st).

Picking the wrong pocket might prove fatal…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful consequences…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel by Martyn V. Halm, the author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possibly fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.

In Pocket cover by Farah Evers

Just as a reminder – I will experiment with pre-orders for In Pocket, so the ebook will be available at pre-order for the low, low price of 99c (for those who like the ebook without strings attached), but only until the publication date, when the book will become the (still cheap) price of 2.99.

So follow my blog and get a two dollar discount when you pre-order In Pocket before August 1st!


‘In Pocket’ won a new cover

While my stand-alone noir novel In Pocket went through the beta-testing, I submitted the cover I had to the 2015 E-Book Cover Makeover Contest, and I won a spanking new cover.

Before:

1400px-inpocket

New cover, courtesy of Farah Evers Design:

In Pocket cover by Farah Evers

You can find information on the contest here. The pitch for In Pocket:

Picking the wrong pocket might prove fatal…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful consequences…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel by Martyn V. Halm, the author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possibly fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.

I hope to publish In Pocket before the end of this month.


PUBLISHING: Can You Find The Differences?

My cover designer, Farah Evers, updated my covers to make them more legible at a smaller size. I replaced the covers on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Nook, Scribd, and all other retailers.

Here are the old covers (left) and the new covers (right).

REPROBATEREPROBATE 2

PECCADILLOPECCADILLO 2

ROGUEROGUE 2

LOCKEDROOMLOCKEDROOM 2

MICROCHIPMURDERMICROCHIPMURDER 2

FUNDAMENTALERRORFUNDAMENTALERROR 2

Aconite Kill File gray MSACONITE 2

The differences are subtle and perhaps only noticeable if you have the covers side-by-side, but I’m nevertheless very pleased with the upgrade! What do you think? Improvement or not?


Aconite Attack, the new Katla KillFile, is now live!

Aconite Attack, the fourth KillFile, is now available at Amazon and will soon be available at other retailers*. Click on the cover to go to the Amazon page:

Aconite Kill File gray MS

Assassin Katla finds a devious way to get a target to poison himself…

The Aconite Attack KillFile (10,700 words) follows Katla Sieltjes on her first foray as a freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, when she gets herself hired by the CEO of a modelling agency to permanently remove his playboy partner, who is quickly draining the firm’s resources on his downward spiral into self-destruction. Katla finds a way to administer poison to the target, but he has to be isolated for her plan to succeed. Every plan has a fluke factor though, and Katla soon finds herself in a struggle for life and death, when the target reveals his darker side…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

This e-book features a glossary.


 

* Aconite Attack should become available at iBooks, Kobo, B&N, NookUK, Scribd, and other retailers in the coming days, as some retailers take more time to process the publication. Check your favourite retailer by using the links on the main page.


 If you want to read Aconite Attack and review the story on GoodReads/Amazon/Kobo/iTunes/B&N/NookUK, I have free review copies (ePub/Mobi) available, just send me an email.

I hope every Katla fan will enjoy this new novella. Please share this post through the social media buttons below.

Thanks for your support!