A good novel takes you to a different place. It gives you someone else’s story. It might be good things or bad things, something easy to relate to, or something as far away from your own life as here to the moon. Which depending where here is, might be very far away. A good novel takes you away from your own life, but also explains a little about it. Myself, and many other bloggers are working on a novels, or projects of a similar nature. It is hoped that with the right mix of words, ideas, technical bits and passion, that these will become good novels, and find some readers. Hopefully the reader finds that little thing that gives them thought after they put the novel down, it finds a connection with a part of their life.
A well written novel does not make the technical bits too obvious, even if they are staring the reader in the face. Perhaps chapters are of a similar length so the reader can look, understand the structure and think, I can get through two or three of these before work, or before sleep. Perhaps the title infers something that leads the reader to think a certain way. I have noticed some bloggers will discuss their various writing projects, referring by the project’s title, i.e. it has one to refer to, where as others like my self just refer to a “project” itself. Why might this be?
I am a little secretive about my fiction projects, I like to give little away. It is not so much that I am embarrassed about the title, or I think it might be stolen. I just see it as my project, my thing, until it is finished, and then it can belong to everybody else as well. For me the title is a part of that, although hypocritically, it could be used as a teaser as well, if I feel I have a good one. More often, there is something else. When I start a project, I do not always know what the title is. I prefer to have a working title, then let the title arrive organically through the writing. If a good one pops up, then it will be kept, and maybe used. It needs to grow from the project. For me, it does not need a title whilst being written. For other writers, it is a little like a child, they prefer a name that they can lead, or leads them, through the story. They nurture the story from it, and help it grow.
A title could be important in marketing the project. That could be a further reason why I am happy to leave it until later.
As I pointed out above, how the chapters are structured in terms of length if important to many readers. They usually do not want to read a short 1000 word chapter followed by a 7,000 word chapter. People have busy lives, they pick up and put down books. They read on the train, or for half an hour before a tv show starts. They want to read the segments of it knowing they can pick it up and put it down at a convenient point in the story. Different authors break the book up in different ways. Many books just use numbers to separate the chapters. There is nothing wrong with this, it keeps the focus on the story. It just gives convenient breathing points in the story. Dividing the chapters up in any other way is not necessary for them. Others e.g. George R. R. Martin in his Game of Thrones books, use character names. This is important in these books because there are a lot of characters, and the chapter name is a device to immediately tell you which character, point of view, and story that you are following.
Other books use titles, which I find an interesting approach, because if done well, it can point your brain into a specific direction. I really don’t know how much notice most readers take of this. Many likely just leap into the next part of the story. It could temporarily take you out of the story. It depends on the story as to whether or not this is a good thing. I see the same thing with chapters which have a quote, prior to the story continuing. Some of these I read, others I don’t. I suppose it can add a layer, or take your thoughts in a different direction if you read it and take it in, but as with chapter titles, it can briefly jump you out of the story. I wonder if that is a bad thing or not. Given that you have taken a breather from the previous chapter, why not? The reader can ignore it if he or she so wishes, and continue on with the main text. I quite like the way some tv shows use titles to name episodes, many HBO, AMC, and Showtime shows do this. Sometimes the title is made up, other times it comes from a specific line of dialogue in the episode, which loosely, and sometimes cleverly, sums up either what the episode is about, or the theme of the episode is about.
Would using the same technique and putting “clever” titles on a chapter actually be a clever thing to do? I’m tempted to do this with my current project. It might make the chapter headings more interesting. Would it be a distraction? Maybe, but if it really doesn’t work, it could easily be changed for numbers. You could apply the same logic to book segments. Some authors like to break the novel up into sections or parts containing a group of chapters. The novel might be changing track, or a significant point has been gotten to, so the chapters are grouped together in a separate section. It is a bit like books within books, a technique often used in mysteries or thrillers, or epic voyages. These could be labelled with numbers, titles, with either plus a quote, or clever titles.
So how a writer uses a title could be important to how the work progresses, but is also important to the reader. How we use chapter or segment headings can be done in a number of ways, but it ought to suit the story and the pacing of the story, how and when it should be broken up or paused. Get these right and it helps the reader connect with the work a little more, and sets them on the journey to that other place.
So how much importance do you place on a project title whilst working on the project? Do you need it before or during, or afterwards? How do you use chapter headings, and how important is the format of these to you?
N.B. This weekend, I’m heading off to another family reunion from the other side of my wife’s family. I may be a little late in getting to read and respond to comments.
Lexicon word of the day: insipid.