Tuesday, August 7, 2012

TTYU Retro: Considering Chapter Titles?

I know plenty of people who never read chapter titles. They don't want to bother with them, or maybe don't even notice them, and so they skip right by and they'll tell you those chapter titles might as well not be there at all.

So why use chapter titles?

I admit I don't always use them - my last novel didn't seem to lend itself to them at all. But my Varin novels have always had them, even when I first started writing them.

Chapter titles can do two really interesting and useful things: they identify the core of your chapter, and they allow a writer to have an independent conversation with readers. I'll take a look at each of these.

First, a chapter title can help you to identify the core of your chapter. You might remember in yesterday's post when I talked about struggling with a chapter where every event seemed to have the same importance, and it was just "stuff happening" instead of building to a climax... One of the first symptoms of a chapter that has this problem is that I can't find a title for it. Not all of my chapter titles do the same thing, but often enough they'll address some theme that the events of the chapter contribute to. Other times they'll be directly linked to the climactic event or significance of the chapter - and therefore, if I know lots of stuff that has to happen in the chapter but I don't know what to call it, I've already got a hint that something might be missing. This is a little bit like writing your query before you write a novel, to make sure you're on track with the core idea (what the book is about). The only difference is that it's on the chapter level, not the book level.

Second, the chapter titles can be a really useful communication tool between writer and reader. Why? Because no matter how close the point of view you use in your narrative, the chapter titles fall outside that. Chapter titles can be in any point of view you want - any of your characters, or even your own. You should be careful not to put spoilers in them, but you can put in teasers (like my chapter named "Ambush"). You can also keep a bit of distance from the overall plot, or help focus reader attention on tiny thematic clues by labeling what to look for up front.

Now of course, you may note what I said earlier, that some people don't read chapter titles (their loss, really). Yeah, sure. You don't need them. But they can be useful for your writing process (because of #1 above), and they can also be fun and informative, and give you a chance to feel that nudge-nudge-wink confidentiality with your reader.

It's something to think about.