Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chapter Titles

This post is short because I'm in a good writing zone and mean to stay there for the rest of the day. Sweet!

Titling chapters. I do it. I'm not sure how many other writers do. Here's why I do it: I usually don't have a handle on what element should hold a chapter together as a unit of scenes, what image or theme or emotional arc or whatever should be given the main focus, until I've found a title. Maybe it's another symptom of how chemo changed my writing process. I never felt the need for titling chapters before chemotherapy, so Kindred is the first book in which I titled all the chapters as I wrote them (I removed the titles before I sent the manuscript to my agent, since most books I read these days don't have titled chapters).

But I like chapter titles. I like them a lot. At least to help me write the first draft. They're also nifty for hunting down certain sections of the book as it grows longer, and longer, and longer. When did Willa visit the lake? Oh, I think that was in Lost and Found.

Today's title: Two Blue Beads

PS: added a really sweet, lovely song down in the blog footer, featuring Zachary Levi, who plays Chuck, on Chuck. Yep. He sings, too. Is there no end to his adorableness? Thank you for this one, Ruth. Mwah!


  1. When I made it home with my "hot off the press" copy of the seventh Harry Potter book around 1 a.m., after hanging out at B&N for five hours the night it was released, I actually closed my eyes as I turned past the table of contents page. I didn't want to see a single one of the chapter titles, because I feared it would give away parts of the story I wanted to be surprised by.

    I'm really weird as a reader---I don't read chapter titles or epigrams or verses at the beginning of chapters. When I'm editing, I have to force myself to remember to read them. To me, they're like the period at the end of the sentence---something that's there to mark the end of one thing and the beginning of the next thing, but not something to be acknowledged.

  2. Kaye, I'm right there with you on the epigram thing. I don't read them and find them distracting authorial intrusions. But I don't feel that way about chapter titles. I liked them in Harry Potter, also in Diana Gabaldon's books. The clever ones are hooks, but not spoilers.

    Mine are a part of my writing process, but beyond that... they aren't necessary. Which is why I deleted them before Kindred left my clutches. :) But I get a little writer's high when a chapter or section title comes to me and fits so perfectly it lends direction to the writing. Sort of a mini version of the high I get when I find the perfect book title.

  3. I love epigrams and chapter titles. I don't find them intrusive at all, rather they prime me for the new chapter. It seems like chapter titles are used less frequently these days. The only thing I don't like about them as a writer is that sometimes they can seem like a waste of a good title for a novel!

    Happy writing!

  4. Carla, I bet the like/dislike about chapter titles and epigrams will be evenly divided. I've been known to talk to epigrams and say, "I don't want to hear it, let's get on with the story," or avert my eyes like Kaye does with chapter titles. Yet I love a clever chapter title in other author's books. Hmmm... no rhyme or reason there that I can see. :)

    Oh, and you are right about the potential for chapter titles to become book titles. I've found some wonderful potential book titles while naming my chapters, which is one of the reasons I deleted them all from the manuscript before it left me, and stuck them all in a Title File to keep on hand. So if nothing else it was a good exercise in coming up with titles. But on the day they really help the process of crafting a chapter.

    Happy writing to you too, my friend!

  5. I do have to say that there is one novel I've read in which not only did I read the epigram at the beginning of each chapter, it actually impressed me the way it set up and created anticipation for what happened in the chapter---and that was in Robert Elmer's THE CELEBRITY. Each quote is from an actor/actress or a movie. I read this book as one of my critical reading titles for grad school, so it still has all of my Post-it Note notes in it. And one about three-quarters of the way through the book reads: "Quotes @ beginning of chapters---so good!"

  6. So glad you love the song! :)

    I like chapter titles, especially clever ones (as Rowling had a knack for in the Potter books). I am drawing a complete blank as to what book I read recently that had great epigrams at the beginning of each chapter...really added to my enjoyment of the story. If the title ever comes to me I'll come back and comment. :)

  7. Kaye, I can't think of a book where I didn't find the epigrams intrusive. I'm sure there has to have been at least one in all my reading over the years, but it's a long time since I stopped reading them. Because they aren't from the characters' voices, they tend to yank me out of the story. I suppose they wouldn't bother me if it felt like the character/s chose to add them, and not the author, if that makes sense.

    Ruth, I played it for Brian and he hummed it all the way to church last night. Let me know if you remember that book title. I'd be happy to find an exception to my aversion. :)