Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Constructing Chapters

David Baldacci

Lesson time 14:00 min

The first chapter of your book should be a touchstone. David talks about how to open with a “big pop” and how to reference that opening in the rest of your chapters.

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Topics include: Start With “The Big Pop” • Make the First Chapter Your Touchstone • Create Momentum With Short Chapters • Blend Storytelling Elements • From Outline to Chapter: The Innocent • Give Your Chapters Purpose


[MUSIC PLAYING] - So many times, I've had writers come up to me at book events and book signings-- I have a book that I want to write. I just can't get started. You know? And the reason they can't get started is they're trying to figure out everything that's gonna be in this 140,000-word, 500-page novel before they sit down to write it. And they're totally overwhelmed by it. They just can't do it. And their fingers hover over the keys. You know, their hand is shaking with the pen. So they never write the first page. I always like to come up with-- I call it the big pop. And the big pop is, how is the novel gonna open? You know, because if you don't get that right, it doesn't matter what else you write after that because nobody's gonna bother to finish reading it. So the big pop is really important. So I need to understand intimately how that scene is going to unfold and how it's gonna drive the rest of the story. So it could be that, you know, somebody dies, somebody is killed, a plane crashes, you know, a government facility is robbed, somebody escapes from a prison. That's the big pop. And then it's my job to take that big pop and break it down, understand how I'm gonna construct that scene, how you will construct that scene. There was a book I wrote called "The Escape" where this guy that I needed to get out of that prison-- it's the USDB-- United States Disciplinary Barracks-- at Leavenworth. It's escape-proof. Nobody's ever escaped from it. You just can't escape from it. My job was, in the opening chapters, I needed him to escape from this prison. I've been out there. I mean, I see how it's worked out. It's a military prison. And for me, in my mind, there was only one way for this to happen, and that was the big pop that I came up with. So everything that I built around that opening scene in my outline, I needed to execute on. But all the different elements I built in that scene-- all of that was threaded into the rest of the novel. I got the big pop. It's almost like a little self-encapsulized short story. I'm gonna sit down and I'm going to write those first few chapters. And then all of a sudden, you're over that hump of, oh, my god, how do I do this. Because when you write those first three chapters, all of a sudden, you opened up all these possibilities for all these other plot threads. I've got this stuff here. He's escaping form prison. Who helped him? Who didn't help him? Why did he get out? What's he gonna do now? All of a sudden, there's all this stuff you can write about, and the problem of "I don't know how to start it" goes away. [MUSIC PLAYING] While I'm writing a novel, I constantly go back to the first chapter. Sometimes-- every time that I go back to the novel, I could be in the middle or near the end, and I go back to that first chapter. That's my touchstone. That should be a writer's touchstone. That's how you opened this compelling story to the world. So it's the most-- the first thing ...

About the Instructor

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.

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David Baldacci

In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.

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