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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Titles, Subtitles, Chapter Headings, and Scenes

   
Author Topic: Titles, Subtitles, Chapter Headings, and Scenes
Robert Nowall
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How far is too far?

My latest thing has titles going on down into each scene. But you don't see a lot of titles these days---a lot of novels don't even have chapter titles, only numbers, and sometimes not even that, just divisions, spaces and such. And my titles hardly seem necessary to anything going on in the story. It just amuses me to do so, and to keep doing so.

What say you, people? How far should you go in creating titles? Is it worth the extra effort? Do writers and / or editors think it's just extra padding? Would you get bored reading them off as you go, or would it whet your interest even further in what's going on? Can you think of anything else to say about them?


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Rhaythe
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I find they distract me from the story and pull me out of the moment, so to speak. But that's just my personal take. On a few novel WIPs I started, I came up with chapter titles more or less just for the fun of it, to kind of get me in the mood to write, but then I usually stripped them out later on.
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Broda
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If you're going to use them, make sure they are useful. i.e. George R.R. Martin uses the POV character's name as the chapter title in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
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micmcd
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I find that chapter titles can sometimes give character to a story. In some ways they can act as promises of something interesting to happen in the chapter to come - it gives me a reason not to put down the book for one more chapter.

It can also be neat to look at a table of contents and see the cryptic hints of events to come. I always put titles on my chapters, and I enjoy books that do the same. Be careful not to give anything away - just a promise that something fun is going to occur. I particularly get a kick out of a title that ends up being clever or funny only after reading the chapter.

Not sure how far down into it I would go - you mentioned titling subsections as well - I'd be careful there. In that case, it can make sense if it goes with the spirit of your book. For example, if you were narrating from the point of view of a writer, or perhaps someone with OCD that had to classify everything. Military adventures can work this way, but in that case the titles would almost all be more like event log headings "Milikas Star Base - 0549 local time," "Operation Burning Man," etc.


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Crystal Stevens
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I wasn't going to use chapter titles in my novels but discovered I was having problems remembering what I wrote in what particular chapter. Chapter titles helped me easily find what I needed if I had to find certain information to make sure my story was still on track. It's easy to forget what you wrote early on in a novel sometimes, and then either repeat something said early on or even contradict yourself from an earlier chapter. But once I had the chapter titles up, I felt they added to the book and left them in.

The only thing about using chapter titles is that it's customary to make out a table of contents for the book once you do .

I have noticed that Orson Scott Card uses chapter titles, too .

[This message has been edited by Crystal Stevens (edited November 10, 2008).]


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Grant John
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I think the main strength of having chapter titles is to find events you are looking for. With The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan I often used the chapter titles to find things I wanted to check/re-read and the chapter titles, while not giving anything away when first reading were helpful.

Titling scenes should probably only be used if it is actually important. I just finished reading The Time Traveller's Wife and each scene was titled with a date and also the ages of the two main characters (due to the time travelling the date more often than not didn't tell you the age of the Time Traveller). That was practical and useful. Like George R.R. Martin titling chapters with the POV.

Hope this helps,

Grant


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Lyrajean
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I have a WIP where I titled down to scenes. Mostly they are a working tool, because not all of the story has been composed front to back, and putting titles to scenes helps me keep track of where the missing bits are. I don't ever really expect that they'll stay through the finished version.
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steffenwolf
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I like titles, especially ones that don't forewarn you of the events within, yet they make total sense in retrospect. I enjoy using titles with words that can mean 2 totally different things, that could both make sense in the story.

subsection headings, I would use sparingly, and more often just for date/location info, as others have suggested.


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philocinemas
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I have a work on hold that uses title headings for chapters. Each chapter title is an allusion to a piece of classic literature that somehow references what the chapter is about.

Go figure.


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Robert Nowall
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I guess there's no consensus on this, just food for thought...well, I think I'll finish up this draft with them, then decide about removing them later. It's still one or two revisions away from being sent out...
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deebum25
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Oddly enough I always skipped them until I read the Harry Potter books in my 40s.
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Pyraxis
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I think chapter titles add flavor but enough titles for every scene would get annoying. I don't think I've ever seen that done, though, so it might turn out that I liked it.

What I like even more are quotes at the start of each chapter, bits of poetry or lyrics or cultural details from a fantasy world. They add a kind of symbolic relevance to the story and clue me in to what themes were important to the author.


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