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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Writing – chapter headings

I’ve mentioned elsewhere in my blog that I’m addicted to chapter titles. I suspect there’s no cure for it.

I have no problem with books that don’t have them – either a number ( - 1 - ) or the written word (Chapter One) are fine; they do the job.

Chapter breaks serve to provide a breathing space for the reader, perhaps, or signal a change in scene or direction, or move on from a cliff-hanging end-of-chapter scene. Simple breaks (flagged with asterisks or a couple of blank lines or some other symbol) do the same. Invariably and ideally, the suspense or tension at the end of a break won’t be as dramatic as that at the end of a chapter. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter, so long as your story draws the reader to read to the next section.

Chapter headings can be convoluted, explaining what is going to happen in that chapter; this harks back to the late 1800s. I’m not keen on those, as a reader I like to discover what happens as the story unfolds.

Some chapter headings are like bookmarks, so if you want to refer back to an event, a key-word or phrase might guide the reader there. 

I tend to opt for the latter. However, I also like to play word-games when I can, without straining to be too contrived.  The heading still has to be relevant to the content, of course. Take for example the two latest books published, Catalyst and Catacomb; for the former, half of the chapter headings refer to ‘cat’ in some way:


1 – Cat among the pigeons
2 – Cat and mouse
3 – Bradbury & Hood
4 – Cat’s tail
5 – Cat’s fish
6 – Catch up
7 – Worrying a bone
8 – ‘Cat got your tongue?’
9 – Cat on the roof
10 – ‘Let slip the dogs…’
11 – Cat and the lion
12 – Catananche
13 – ‘… tear each other apart…’
14 – Malefice
15 – Extinguished
16 – Becoming a habit
17 – In the news
18 – Bear this worthily
As for Catacomb, again half relate to a cat:
Prologue – Dogs of Law
1 – Cat on a hot wet roof
2 – Marmalade cat
3 – Caterpillar
4 – Cat’s mint tea
5 – Russian blue cat
6 – Paraphrasing Mark Twain
7 – ‘Dirt of the world’
8 – Catsuit
9 – ‘Avenging cat’
10 – Fuller’s earth
11 – Whiff of kif
12 – Catacomb
13 – ‘Call me Cat…’
14 – Hand of Fatima
15 – Travesty of Jackson Pollock
16 – Hugs and nightmares
17 – Last sunset
18 – ‘No last words?’
19 – End it once and for all
20 – Nine lives
I’m sure if I tried very hard, I could have increased that percentage, but then it would have really appeared to be contrived!
Next month, if you so wish, you can compare the chapter headings in Cataclysm…!
KOBO books


Tom Adams said...

I'm one for chapter headings too. The novel I'm working on has every chapter taking its heading from a song title belonging to the canon of my favourite singer. It had the unexpected bonus of giving a focus, flavour and hook to each episode - it even affected the plot on mor than one occasion.

Nik Morton said...

Hi, Tom, that sounds like a good idea. Bear in mind, though, that while song titles are not copyright per se, if you're going to use all of the song titles from a particular artist's output, then it might be prudent to obtain permission. It might depend on the type of book, the subject matter, as to whether he/she would be happy to see the titles used. Obviously, regarding song lyrics, they're copyright; one of the most frequent users of song lyrics is Stephen King and he obtained permission for their use. Sometimes, the permission is free, sometimes it can cost. Good luck with the book.

Tom Adams said...

Yes, I'm aware of the copyright issue. I'm probably in a grey area but my intention is to ask permission from the foundation that represents the artist. I'm hoping that I can obtain this on the basis of me donating a proportion of profits to the charity he set up (posthumous). Thanks for the response.

Nik Morton said...

That's the way to go, Tom. I'm sure that it'll be all right. Good luck.