Indie Author Answers #26: Chapter Arcs

Instead of a tip of the week, let’s take a moment to reflect back on the last twenty-five episodes, and how crazy it it that we’re moving into the second quarter-century!

We’ll chat about some overall lessons learned in the first 25…

And during today’s critique, I’ll give one theory of chapter construction, based on a scene goal and beginning-middle-end way of constructing a chapter.

January 2003 –
March 2003


1: Megan


On the patio outside Noodles & Company on Baseline Street, with her feet up on the table, Megan Wiles was nearing completion of her second read-through of the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. She had finished her bowl of pad thai, but since she had no particular place to be, she had decided to sit and read. Her large down puffy jacket with jeans and brown Ugg boots kept her toasty despite the weather.

Her double major mired her in undergrad-land longer than she had planned. That was fine with her, since she had no idea what she would do when she graduated. Probably grad school, since the professional student life seemed to suit her and BAs in Psychology and Philosophy only qualified her to wait tables.

Across the patio from her sat a woman in a dark grey pantsuit, reading a newspaper. Aside from the fact that a tall, blonde woman in a smart business-suit looked out place at Noodles with other patrons in sweatshirts and tattered jeans, Megan (twice now) had caught the woman sneaking a glimpse. Normally Megan would not care because she knew her tattoo sometimes attracted attention, but something unnerved Megan about the way this woman dipped her head down to spy a glance over the top of her mirrored sunglasses. Not exactly sinister, yet somehow invasive. Megan attempted to ignore the eavesdropping because she intended to finish this book today, and might as well do so while sitting here on the patio.

She reached for her glass of Diet Coke, and caught sight of a giant U-Haul truck across the street as it entered a gas station. The driver had a terrible time negotiating a pole in front of the pump. He pulled in a few feet, then backed up, then forward a few more feet at a new angle, failing to get around it. After a few more attempts, the driver found success and aligned the truck to the pump. From the passenger side, a vaguely familiar-looking young man hopped out. No uncommon occurrence, as Boulder was a small-enough town that many people at the grocery store or the gym had that hint of familiarity on their faces. Usually, not something you would even give a second thought. However, this face seemed different. After a few more seconds of staring, she started to form a picture of this stubbly-blond-haired, blue-eyed kid as one of Wiles’ friends. Yes, definitely. He’s been over to the house before.

Then the driver exited the truck. At first, she strained to place him, but then the pieces came together and she realized that she knew him… his hair had been cut. Surprisingly, he looked even cuter with a standard boy-trim. The sight of his kind face took her to the memory of the party at Miguel’s house, and this boy she had discovered across the yard, with his flowing brown hair and electric smile. The same boy with the ditsy-drunk girlfriend; the one who went off into a back bedroom with Wiles; the one who she never saw again. She remembered thinking about him just moments before Chris kissed her on the couch, wondering if she would ever cross paths with him, and confused as to why this boy had taken such strong roots in her mind.

And now, along came a mythical bit of her past, just across the street, fueling a U-Haul truck. Part of her believed in fate, or serendipity, but a part of her did not. She glanced down at her left hand, the one with the diamond ring on its third finger, and reminded herself that her days of chasing after cute boys in Boulder had ended. Or, at least, were supposed to have ended. She had been Chris Wiles’ wife since just before he shipped out overseas, and although they had consummated their marriage only once, on their faux-honeymoon in a dirt-bag motel in Kansas, at times she forgot that she made a legally binding vow in favor of monogamy.

She closed her book, as she had now soured of her afternoon reading session. She no longer wanted to refill the soda and decided to go home. Just before she could stand up, the lanky pant-suited woman appeared, standing directly across the table from Megan.

“I don’t mean to bother you, but do you mind if I sit down for a second?”

“Um,” Megan said, unable to find a reason to refuse her. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“How is your book?” the woman said, taking a seat.

“It’s pretty good. I’ve read it before.”

“Miguel Ruiz is one of my favorites. I love how he presents these earth-shattering concepts with such simplicity. Makes it easy to remember. If you like that, you should try Awareness by Anthony De Mello. That one totally changed my life.”

Megan held her tongue, unsure of what to make of all this. Why would this stranger in a suit and dark sunglasses approach her to talk about self-help books?

“Megan, I don’t want to waste your time. I know you’re a smart woman, so I want to be direct with you. I am here to offer you some assistance. I want you to know that we’re going to be available to help you get through everything that’s coming.”

She knows my name. This stranger knows my name. “I’m sorry, but I’m a little confused here. How do you… do I know you?”

The woman leaned forward and placed her elbows on the table. “No, but we know you. We know you’re recently married to Derek Wiles’ brother, and you’ve been Derek’s roommate for the past year or so.”

Megan said the only thing that came to mind. “He’s my roommate; I own the house.”

“Well, technically, Chris Wiles owns the house, but that’s not relevant. You could even say that the government owns the house. Six of one, half dozen of the other. When was the last time you spoke to Chris?”

“I don’t… I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

The blonde presented Megan a plastic smile comprised of gleaming white teeth. “But it is, Megan. We know that you two were only married for a few weeks before he went overseas. We know that you don’t get to talk to him often. We also know how hard that’s been on you. Infidelity is a tricky thing.”

Who is this woman?

“I don’t have any problems with infidelity. I don’t know who you are, but you’re crossing a line here. I don’t have to listen to this.”

“Megan, you need to understand what we can do for you.”

The woman said Megan in a familiar tone, but they were certainly not familiar. With each repeat of Megan’s name, the stranger poked a little needle of fear and intimidation into Megan’s chest. Is this maybe some private investigator Chris has hired to check up on me? What kind of horseshit is that? How would he even arrange it? “What did you mean before when you said ‘everything that’s coming’?” Megan said.

“How would you like Chris to come home for good?”

“Well… I, uh, of course I want him to come home.”

The woman withdrew a business card from inside her jacket pocket and pushed it across the table. The card shooshed as it slid along the wrought-iron patio furniture. Megan picked it up and let her eyes wander over the simple card. The sole text on the card was a phone number, printed in small, black ink. No name, no insignia, nothing else.

“What am I supposed to do with this? Who are you?”

“I think you already know the answers to both of those questions. You can do some tangible good here. It’s all up to you. We know what your brother-in-law Derek Wiles does for a living. And I also know that you know what I mean when I say that. Living with him has placed you in a unique situation.”

Now she began to understand. “I’m not interested,” Megan said, averting her eyes.

The woman’s smile flattened. “I just want you to think about it. We’re not asking you to do anything that you’re not comfortable with. That phone number is so we can help each other. If there’s anything you want to talk about, you call that number and ask for Walker.”


“Yes, that’s me. You ask for me.”

Megan took out a pen to write the name on the card, and the woman pointed her index finger, then shook it at the pen.

“No. Just remember. Walker.”

This tall, blonde woman, this “Walker” (Detective Walker? Agent Walker?), appeared to be genuine, but her words twisted like riddles and Megan struggled to understand. Walker knew Megan’s name, her husband’s name, and where she lived… these facts alone had caused Megan’s stomach to fold in half. Now, couple that with the fact that Walker wanted Megan to do… what, precisely?

We know what your brother-in-law does for a living. Megan herself did not exactly know what her brother-in-law did for a living. She had her suspicions but tried to pay as little attention as possible. She would need time to process all of this before she could sort out her feelings. She slipped the card into her pocket, keeping her gaze away from Walker.

“Okay,” The woman said as she stood up, “I realize you’ve got a lot to think about. Thank you for your time, Megan. Enjoy the rest of your day and I hope we hear from you soon.”

With that, she was gone. Megan watched the woman walk towards the parking lot, listening to the click clack of her heels along the concrete. Quietly, almost in a daze, Megan returned her book to her purse, slung her purse over her shoulder, and left the table.