On Writing

Name Thy Chapters

Right that Novel 2 Name Thy Chapter – Part 9 of the Right that Novel Series

A writer must do some things for his reader, she must do some things in the name of marketing, and some things are just required for the craft. For example, if you are penning fiction you should know your “readability” scale. Book title selection is a critical aspect of marketing and of course proper grammar is a “must have” in legitimate execution of the writing craft. These mechanics are important, but not necessarily motivational in the writing process. Like many critical aspects of a process, they are successful by virtue of “not” being noticed. A review that states, “not a single grammatical error!” might excite a second grader, but won’t mean much for an author.

Staying on course with your novel completion is easier and more fun when there are things within that process that you do just for you. Little things that move the process along and add some entertainment – even better if those things add some potential organization to your quest to reach “The End.” I spend a fair portion of my day in the world of marketing. A place where we strive to say a lot with a very little. We spend much of our time with subject lines for email campaigns, blogs, and advertising. It’s because we know that a great subject line is the best and maybe only way to attract a reader’s attention.

Even if it wasn’t “copy-write 101,” I know I would spend the time anyway. I like creativeness in all things. What surprises me is that authors place so much effort on their words – That they lament over sentences, plot lines and backgrounds and then sum all that work up by typing – Chapter 1! I’m not a woman, but isn’t that kind of like carrying a baby for nine months, going through the discomfort of child birth, and then announcing “here is child #1” to the world? Or calling the rooms in your home by a number, “hey if you’re going to room #3 can you grab me a soda from appliance #12?  I think of my book title like a surname – the chapters are individuals so they get their own names.

I love naming my chapters. I also name the subsections of each chapter and I put much thought into each of them. It serves a few purposes. The first and foremost is for my own personal amusement. Sometimes the title is a call out to something in our pop culture. For example I have a subsection in my second book titled “Boarding Windows.” Anyone who plays the Zombie game in Xbox’s Call of Duty will know exactly to what I refer – for everyone else the title will still make sense when they read the section. Sometimes I use titles in a more sad or stoic way, such as “Broken Things That We Still Love” which is an emotional chapter about the character Annie’s breakdown. I have a chapter titled, “Nightmirrors” which deals with the characters’ reflections and is a plug for my website which deals with my “horror reflections.”

Chapter title ex 1

Amusement factor aside, naming chapters is helpful to the writing process. This second benefit is that the titles serve as an outline to the story. They help to organize the plot and visualize the entire process before hand. I predominantly use an organization chart that starts with twelve chapters, three subsections per chapter, and 2,000 words for each subsection. When you do the math, that adds up to 72,000 words which is my initial target for my novels. By naming each chapter and section, I can see in advance where the creative thinking still needs to occur.


Chapter title ex 2

The third benefit of the naming process is directly related to velocity and tempo. A chapter and subsection title selection requires that the writer defines –  in the shortest of terms – the point of the section. In the process of developmental editing, you can see where you missed or went off script just by comparing what your title intended and what you actually wrote. Plus when you’ve laid out every section on a sheet of paper – or as I use, an excel workbook – your plot line is complete, you have a general direction and tone, now you just need to fill in the blanks…in 2,000 word increments.

As I have said, writing a novel is either a six month process or six years, depending on the techniques that you employ. Deep in the writing process it can be difficult, if not impossible, to see the “big picture” and find the places where you got lost or went off the rails. Naming chapters and subsections resolves that issue and gives you just another creative outlet to play with words.

Naming chapters has another important function. It serves to remind us that a story…

Part 10: It has a beginning, middle and an end

4 replies »

  1. Can’t even decide on names for my novels and stories. Not good ones at least. Usually my friends come up with them based on a supplied plot description. I will definitely get around to titling like you’re saying eventually as I agree it’s a very good effect and probably does help with more concrete story construction. It’s sort of what St Augustine said about chastity. Please lord, let me title all my chapters someday, but not now! 😉

Keep it sane

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