“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for” ~ Tom Bodett
Three can be a good number for me, or a bad number. It can be magic or tragic. In the case of my novels, it has been tragic every single time. Always a huge obstacle. The dreaded Chapter Three is what makes or breaks me. I'm not sure if anybody else has struggled with this weird phenomenon, but it seems to me that Chapter Three is where a novel either soars or plummets to a sickening splat.
Chapter Three is often where I either stop reading a book, or keep reading. Chapter One is almost always a good hook. Chapter Two I'm willing to put with a lot if Chapter One was amazing. But Chapter Three - well, if it sucks, let's face it. I'll probably toss the book aside. So what does this mean?
Chapter Three is a HINGE.
I like the quote beneath the picture. It tells me something about humanity and happiness. I'm guessing that most readers want the same general things from a novel that they want out of life. Most readers aren't looking for a depressing, sad tale. Even if they know the story is depressing (you know, like Hamlet depressing), they know they'll probably get some sort of good message out of it, or the journey will take them somewhere rich and meaningful - something that will help them learn more about themselves and life in the process. That's the point of a novel, isn't it? To entertain, to make us feel, sometimes to even change us.
So your first three chapters should probably give the reader three things:
Someone to love - at least one character your reader can relate to and care about
Something to do - the emergence of a theme or story line showing your reader there's an amazing journey of emotions up ahead
Something to hope for - an often complex complication (um, lots and lots of tension) promising something to root for until the end
So there you go. If you haven't accomplished those by Chapter Three, you most likely have a problem. Chapter Three often falls into the range of chapters or pages an agent or editor will ask for. The first three chapters are often a good snippet to give your beta readers to see if they're interested in the entire book. They could also serve as a good stopping point for a first draft, to see if you want to continue with the plot and characters.
Also, if you don't section your novel into chapters, the first "three chapters" end up in the first 6 - 10 thousand words of the novel, at least from what I've found in my own writing.
Question For The Day: This is just my experience with Chapter Three. Do you feel the same? Or has Chapter Three posed no particular threat or problem to you?
~MDA (aka Glam)