Potato chip chapters

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I read the last page of a book last night, which is good because maybe now I’ll catch up on the sleep I’ve missed while reading “just one more chapter” for the past several nights. Like many bookworms, I often have trouble backing away from a good book, and lately it’s creating an internal conflict.

On one hand, I’m eager to start reading another book – one that will be so good it makes me lose all track of time. There are few things I enjoy more than lying in bed, while everyone else is sleeping, flipping pages in eager anticipation of what happens next. Suspense, drama, complications, action, emotion – it’s all in there.

On the other hand, I’m no longer a college kid who can pull an all-nighter. Mama needs her sleep, not just for me but for the people who have to live with me.

Long before technology allowed us to binge-watch episodes on Netflix, book lovers already understood how hard it is to stop yourself once you’re in the middle of a great story. Writers understand it, too. A few years ago, I began studying fiction writing because I want to understand how authors create that invisible pull that begins in the opening lines of a novel and doesn’t let up until the final page.

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One of the things I’ve learned is that many writers craft chapters that are, as book editor Shawn Coyne describes it, “potato chip length.” In his book titled “The Story Grid,” he explains that a potato chip chapter is one that’s around 2,000 words long and structured so that it leaves the reader wanting a little more as the scene ends.

When readers want more, we convince ourselves to read “just one more chapter.” One chapter leads to the next and the next until pretty soon it’s past 2 a.m. Every time it happens to me, I can practically hear two inner voices battling for control – one of them scolding and the other urging me to keep going.

Inner voice: “What are you doing? It’s after two in the morning! You should be asleep right now. You know you’re going to hate yourself in the morning, right?”

Stubborn voice: “I know, I know. But I just need to find out what happens next, and then I’ll put the book away. Promise.”

Inner voice: “You said that exact same thing three chapters ago.”

Stubborn voice: “Shut up and turn the page.”

So, I keep devouring one chapter after another until either my eyes get too heavy to keep going or I finish the whole thing. chips circleIt’s just like the Lay’s Potato Chip slogan I remember from the 80s: “No one can eat just one.” Or the Pringles version of the same idea – “Once you pop, you can’t stop.”

Lately I’m reading most books digitally on my phone or an iPad. So maybe what I need is an app that notices what time it is and locks down my device after putting the following alert up on the screen: “Attention: You are too old to be staying up this late. Go to sleep now. No more reading until tomorrow.” It would be like a digital version of a stern babysitter or a miffed mother who’s had it up to here with these late-night shenanigans.

If it’s true that there’s an app for everything, then maybe I can find some type of reading regulator to keep me from sabotaging a good night’s sleep. If not, I guess I’ll go on looking forward to (and partially dreading) those times when a friend recommends a book that she “just couldn’t put down.” I might as well start calling these saggy pouches under my eyes “book bags.”

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at rockwoodfiles@cox.net. Her book is available on Amazon.

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