Monday, September 24, 2007

Chapter Titles


A four panel leather screen, painted in the Chinese taste,
English or Dutch, c. 1750.

(reminds me of Escher.)

Chapter titles in fiction used to be standard.

They conformed to two basic types: enigmatic mini-titles such as The Pit of Doom, or table-of-contents/ synopsis style: Where I Meet the Dragon Lady, Suffer a Reverse and Fall into Despair.

I have the feeling chapter titles began to gradually disappear from the frontis of adult fiction about fifty years ago.

Possibly because novels were no longer as extensively serialized as in past decades. Possibly because of WW2 paper shortages. Possibly because the traditional introduction was considered un-sheik and un-sleek.

Possibly all of the above and more.

I have noticed the introduction of a lot of extra material - besides the internal blurb pages and acknowledgements - which may indicate a supplemental trend in the novel format these days: messages from the author, suggestions for book club discussion, etc.

And I wonder in my idle way if the style of chapter titles will also make a come-back.

How do you feel about chapter titles?

And do you use them yourself?

Gimme-Your-Feet Department:
J.H. Bogran - whose next novel Love me Two Times - a psychological thriller - is just out from Red Rose Publishing , generously pimped Weirdly: A Collection of Strange Stories on his blog. Thank you, Jose.

Groaner Q& A:
For inspirational writers...
Q: How do you get holy water?
A: You boil the hell out of it.

42 comments:

Angie said...

I remember books that had chapter titles. :) I've never used them myself, though, and I think I'd have a hard time doing it with a straight face. [ponder] If I were doing something funny, especially something ironic, then chapter titles could help with that.

It'd be tough to do them, straight, though, because people aren't used to them anymore and the initial reaction would probably include at least one raised eyebrow. It's hard to get past that sort of thing with one's dignity intact. [rueful smile]

Angie

SzélsőFa said...

I wish I had problems like adressing various chapters with different titles! If I wrote something that were divided into chapters, whole, complete chapters, well, I might title them. Because I am old fashioned like that.

At present, we are re-reading the LOTR trilogy and there are titles. But in modern books they seem to have disappeared.

Vesper said...

I love chapter titles - they tell a story by themselves. But like you said, modern authors are probably afraid of being ridiculed or just not accepted, so they don't use them anymore. Too bad...

Bernita said...

Angie, the aperitif concept survives occasionally in chapter epigrams and quotes, but I'm afraid you are right. To the modern eye they probably appear pretentious, or at least "quaint.".
Yet, "Chapter XVIII" sometimes seems so blah.

Szelsofa, they do have a certain charm.
And I'll admit I've wondered about using them.

Vesper, thank you for stopping by.

Do, please, check out Vesper's lovely blog.

moonrat said...

chapter titles are for nonfiction!!
[just my opinion]

Bernita said...

Eh, Moonrat, you opinion certainly counts!
But apart from a publishing convention, there may be other reasons.
Would a chapter title contradict the seamless factor, and - to use a cliche - "throw" the reader out of the story?

M.E Ellis said...

I've always had a thing about those screens. One day I want a big enough bedroom so that I can have one to undress behind, not that I would, but the idea of it is cool. And then I'd have to wear stockings so I could throw them over the top.

I saw one of these in a shop. Each panel was made into about 12 squares and it was a massive photoframe screen. I want it. Black and white photos of my kids in there would look brilliant.

:o)

Bernita said...

"I've always had a thing about those screens..."
Me too, Michelle!
All very bed-sitterish, with something frou-frou/diaphanous/slip-into-something-more-comfortable thrown over.
Think mine would be red and black lacquer with golden dragons.

Jaye Wells said...

Gaiman's Anansi Boys uses titles. For example, Ch. 5 "In Which We Examine the Many Consequences of the Morning After." It's done very well and adds to the overall tone of the book. I'd hate to see it become trendy though. When it's done well it's great, when it's overdone it's a gimmick.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Jaye.
That one has a retro tone to it.
I had the feeling there were current examples, but couldn't recall any.

Robyn said...

I think chapter titles (which I love, BTW) would work better in comedy these days. Like Jaye's example above, funny titles may not produce the eyerolling.

Angie said...

Bernita -- right, if you include quotes and such then it's still fairly commonish, sort of. And properly chosen quotes can add quite a lot to the story, building up anticipation for the chapter or putting you in the right mindset to see something subtle within it. But actual titles would be tough to pull off.

Jaye -- yes, but he's Neil Gaiman and can do whatever he wants and make it work. [wry smile]

Angie

Bernita said...

Or, as I have read, Robyn, for children's books.

And might produce an attack by the purple mouse as well, Angie.

bunnygirl said...

I don't bother with chapter titles. Just titling my books is challenge enough! But with my blog fiction, I've found it useful to add titles of some sort to the chapter listings to make it easier for a new reader to figure out where they want to start.

I don't see myself ever doing titles with print fiction, though. Too much trouble, and I'm no good at coming up with titles.

Seeley deBorn said...

The Man and I were discussing this last night. Each of his serial needs a title, and we've come up with a theme. In general I hate naming things and usually rely on others (The Man, my CP) for book titles. I couldn't imagine having to name each chapter.

In theatre, we would give each scene its own little title. But they would be more like inside jokes, and used only for our own purposes.

Bernita said...

Bunny and Seeley raise another objection.
Those who have title-block ( and everyone does on occasion) would resist chapter titles re-emerging as a convention.

Charles Gramlich said...

I love chapter titles and put them in all of my Taleran books. I didn't use them in my thriller, Cold in the Light, because it would have seemed strange stylistically given the way thrillers are published these days. I think you're right, the decrease in chapter titles has to do with works not being serialized as much. I wish they'd come back, though, but with the tiny short chapters in books these days I don't look for it to happen.

Dave said...

I've tried both numbers and words for chapter titles and now I just wait until the end of the and decide if it merits more than a number.
I think that the more you plot out a novel, the more extensive an outline you have, the easier it would be to create the titles on the fly.

I just finished a novel with quotations from literature at the beginning of the chapters and I didn't read a single one of the quotes.

Demon Hunter said...

I used chapter titles with my very first novel, then I got annoyed and don't use them anymore. I think it's just a matter of choice.

Bernita said...

Charles, I notice that Robert Jordan (God rest) also used chapter titles in the Wheel of Time.
I can see a certain necessity in sagas, but I also wondered if the use persists as a tradition in fantasy and high adventure.
Your choice (and liking) suggests that it may.

Bernita said...

The choice doesn't belong entirely to the writer, my Demon.
We have no idea if some published novels were first submitted with chapter headings that were subsequently removed - though I have not read of editors/agents bitching about the use thereof .

Bernita said...

I also use numbers, Dave.
I think you are right about production of such titles though.
And I read everything now, including the publisher's page - I used to ignore all the preliminaries in my haste to dive into the story.

StarvingWriteNow said...

"Boil the hell out of it"... snort! I think I'll use that one at PSR tonight!

Bernita said...

Starving, it's good advice for any genre, actually...

Scott from Oregon said...

I have one of those screens. I keep knocking it over when I yawn...

I like the short titles over chapters.

When I drop a book and lose my page, it helps me get back to where I was...

Church Lady said...

There was a recent discussion about chapter titles on the SCBWI boards recently. Even children's writers are talking about it. I love chapter titles. I think they should entice without giving the store away, and I do use them.

If I remember correctly, Vikram Seth's novel "A Suitable Boy" uses couplets as chapter titles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Suitable_Boy

I haven't been able to read this yet. It's 1400 pages. One day.....

The Anti-Wife said...

Curiosity made me go back and look at the last few books I've read. Seems like the non-fiction all have titles and the fiction don't. Hmmm.

Bernita said...

A practical point, Scott.
One shouldn't lose sight of the physics of things.

That's interesting, Chris. Maybe we'll see more use of chapter titles.

They're an organizational necessity in non-fiction, just about, AW.

Lisa said...

I've been thinking a lot about chapter titles -- I don't have them in my WIP (yet), but I really like them when I run across them. I've also been thinking a lot about my crankiness at short chapters (I know, I'm old fashioned) for the sake of reader ADD. I feel a little forced to find good breaking points at scenes every 10-12 pages because that seems to be the trend, but I'd feel much better about chapters that had logical lengths within the context of story -- and those would lend themselves to chapter titles. I've seen some innovative ways authors have used to title chapters and I always enjoy coming across them.

Boil the hell out if it. HA!

Jon M said...

I wrestle with chapter titles. They jump out and grab me sometimes like, 'The Corpse on the Altar' and then others are crap like, 'Danger from above.' I like chapter titles when they work. They're good for organising work. I was consider the synopsis type theing: 'In which young Master Alfred gets his Gonad caught in the fridge door and nurse applies a poultice' sort of thing.

Bernita said...

Hmm, Lisa, that's a point.
Titles don't seem necessary in short chapters.

Jon, I suppose the short title for that chapter would be something like "Cracking Nuts?"

December/Stacia said...

I don't use them, but I really like them.

Colleen Gleason uses them; hers are very cute.

Jeff said...

Chapter titles? Either way is okay with me, although I don't plan on using them myself.

spyscribbler said...

I hate chapter titles. Particularly because I used in my WIP, had some cool chapter titles in the beginning. Now I realize that instead of having to come up with one title, I've doomed myself to coming up with TONS of titles. Grrrr ...

However, I love other people's chapter titles. I think they're making a comeback! I keep seeing them more.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't care about chapter titles, but I use them when I write so I can find the sections I am looking for in the TOC.

Shesawriter said...

I'm using them in my current WIP. I entered it in a contest and the judges had a royal fit. They didn't like them. They said they were distracting.

I'm ignoring them because it's my story and I know where it's going.

Bernita said...

Now there...another current example. Thank you, December.

I feel the same, Jeff.

Seems there's always an upside and a downside, Natasha!

A practical consideration, Written.

Ptooi! to rigid judges, Tanya!

J. H. Bográn said...

Sometimes I use title chapters, other times I dispense of them. It is fun to try to come up with a couple of words that summarize the chapter content without giving too much of it away!
During the editing of Treasure Hunt, I had to replace about 2 or 3 and also has to come up with new ones as some long chapters were spited.
BTW: thanks for plug!

Bernita said...

Enticement is good, Jose!
Just returning your kindness.

IM Cupnjava said...

I love chapter titles. I think they help set the tone for the chapter. They can also help if you're shifting time. I used them in Full Circle and Tainted Past. I did not use them in Selling Foxx because that's a short.

M.E Ellis said...

Red and black, hmmm, sounds delicious!

:o)

Bernita said...

"shifting time" - that's another good point, IM.

I'm also partial to scenery, Michelle.
There are so many lovely styles.