Thursday, 3 April 2008

Chapter headings

Why don't most authors write chapter headings?

Some do, like Jasper Fforde, and JK Rowling; in fact, these days you're most likely to come across them in Y.A. novels. Readers often don't notice them, but they add that extra something and are a lot of fun to write; you can tease and intrigue the reader, and even lead him in the wrong direction.

I've just written them for Rising Fire and Trav Zander. My favourites:

Socks and a revelation

Journey to the edge of the map

A wolf by the ears

Girls and spies

On the run - with canary


  1. And they have so many possibilities if they co-mingle:

    Journey to the edge of a wolf.

    Girls and socks, a revelation.

    On the map with ears

    A canary with a wolf by the ears

    Spies on the run (nah, that's too bland) Maybe "Band on the Run"? That's original!

  2. Don't tell me you're not tempted to write them for The Baer Boys, Alan, because I won't believe you.

    Very dead indeed

    Summoned by The Voice



    Well, I'm sure you can do better. Just thought I'd start you off.

  3. Ooh, I like 'a wolf by the ears' very much!

    The 'Chapter xyz, in which we learn of a ...' type are my faves I think.


  4. I love it too, Nik; I didn't make it up.

    To have a wolf by the ears is an old saying (medieval?) which I came across, I think in a dictionary. I might use it as a title one day.

    You old Victorian, liking those lengthy spoiler headings! They offer the reader the easy option of skipping if he doesn't like the sound of the chapter, without losing the plot...

  5. Tee hee. You're probably right.

    What does the saying mean? It's wonderful.


  6. My dictionary says it means to be in a precarious situation.

    Much the same idea as riding a tiger, I guess; you have an insecure ascendancy over a dangerous beast which is likely to be strictly temporary...

  7. Ah! That'd make sense.

    'Strictly temporary' made me chuckle a lot.


  8. At one point in time, I had chapter headings for my novel. In fact, I went so far as to have each chapter heading (while applying to that chapter), be a phrase uttered during the previous chapter.

    In the end though, I took them out for two reasons. First, because I realized my chapters were too long, and had to triple the amount of chapter separations I had, which meant three times as many headings. Secondly, a lot of chapter headings end up being 'spoilers'. For example, my friend was reading Harry Potter and was able to decipher that a specific main character was about to die from the chapter heading. Kind of ruined it for him. Even worse is when you read a table of contents and can see tidbits of plot twists in there before you even read the book.

    I think my favorite chapter heading was in 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'. The chapter was simply entitled 'The Finger'. It wasn't until the last few pages that you realized the narrator was about to cut off his own finger to avoid the Vietnam war. Actually added suspense to the work.

  9. I've tried to avoid spoilers.

    Socks and a revelation - not much information to be wrested out of that...

    Though after your comments (especially about the table of contents) I shall take another look and aim to make them more gnomic.

  10. I like to give chapter headings in my YA books and pick a phrase from the chapter. For my novel Silence I played around a bit, having a Chapter Two and a Half and at the end I've got a Chapter X and Chapter Why.

    I like 'Journey to the edge of the map' best, it sounds like fun.

  11. I wish I'd thought of having a Chapter and a Half.

    Any chance of your selling me the ideas you don't use, Josie? You have so many you surely don't need them all.