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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Writing – Chapter headings

There’s no requirement to label your chapters. Simply use plain numbers or Chapter 1, 2, 3 etc., or variations.

However, I like to use titles, and often play with words. My first western’s Chapter One was entitled Rue the Lash – which was a play on the old western film star Lash LaRue. Sad, I know, but maybe a few old hands made the connection. Anyway, a whip did figure in the chapter.

You don’t have to have a Prologue; and even if you do have one, you don’t have to have an Epilogue. Some writers – and readers! – don’t bother with prologues. I try to use the Prologue and Epilogue to bookend the tale; in my book Old Guns (2012), The Prologue is Penitentiary, the place where the story begins; and the Epilogue is called Penitent, and it ends in the penitentiary. The hook worn by Corbin Molina, the hero in The $300 Man (2009), is significant. It serves as a deadly weapon and saves him more than once. He’s not less of a man, but more of a man with it. The title of the Prologue is ‘The Hook’, which in filmic terms means, the hook to pull the reader in, which it tends to do. And the symbolism runs full circle to the Epilogue, entitled ‘El Gancho’, which is Spanish for ‘the hook’, a nickname the Mexicans have given Molina. And of course Malinda, his true love, plays on the words, to state that she’s hooked – in love.

            And in that latter book, Chapter One’s title, Heaven’s Gateway is the name of a bordello. An apt name, from the male perspective, I imagine. Other titles – Behind every good man – a phrase I revised to “you’ll find a bad woman”. Lean Pickings – I was tempted to call it Slim Pickings, another play on words, but desisted in deference to the western actor, Slim Pickens. And The Pen is Mightier doesn’t need elaboration – and it proved thus, since Corbin stabbed a villain in his eye with a pen.

            Don’t fret over chapter headings, either. Use them if you’re inclined – but it’s best to wait till the book is finished and after you’ve decided how to break up the story into chapters.

Certainly, you don’t have to plan what happens in each chapter – just let the story flow. But you do need to have a map to your destination, even if it’s a bit rough around the edges.

That map is the plot-plan.

- Write a Western in 30 Days (pp 70/71)

[The above guidance can be applied to any genre fiction, of course! The main thing is, have fun with your titles, it can become an additional reading experience for your readers.]


Neil Waring said...

I like chapters with titles, tried it once myself - too hard ended up with 1, 2, 3, much easier. Seems easier with nonfiction for me.

Nik said...

I've blogged about this before, Neil, and I find a named chapter a useful tag or marker. Still, horses for courses. :)