At the end of my latest round of editing on my WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne (Book 1), I came to an inevitable conclusion:
The story is set in the Victorian era, so in order to give it a little more of a Victorian flavor, my chapters ought to have titles. Because some of my favorite books from that era have fantastic chapter titles. Just look at Jules Verne’s “Around The World in Eighty Days,” for example.
I. IN WHICH PHILEAS FOGG AND PASSEPARTOUT ACCEPT EACH OTHER, THE ONE AS MASTER, THE OTHER AS MAN
II. IN WHICH PASSEPARTOUT IS CONVINCED THAT HE HAS AT LAST FOUND HIS IDEAL
III. IN WHICH A CONVERSATION TAKES PLACE WHICH SEEMS LIKELY TO COST PHILEAS FOGG DEAR
IV. IN WHICH PHILEAS FOGG ASTOUNDS PASSEPARTOUT, HIS SERVANT
…and so on
(Taken from the Project Gutenberg version of the book.)
Just look at all of those lovely “in which-es”! Doesn’t that just make you yearn for a comfy armchair where you could settle in for a good read with a crackling fire nearby! Well, it does me.
Or how about this sampling from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Little Princess”:
Chapter 1 Sara
Chapter 2 A French Lesson
Chapter 3 Ermengarde
Chapter 4 Lottie
Chapter 5 Becky
Chapter 6 The Diamond Mines
Chapter 7 The Diamond Mines Again
(from the University of Virginia version on-line)
Maybe not as evocative as the ones from Verne, but enough to let you know that we’re going to be meeting some interesting characters, and that there will be diamond mines involved, not once, but twice. Hmmm….
I will admit that these titles work far better once a person has read this story. Reading a character’s name invokes a mental image of that person, and how they affected the plot. Do you suppose Burnett ever guessed that her books would be read over and over by generations of girls and young women?
Of course, not all Victorian novels had imaginative chapter titles. Instead, some had little chapter headings that summed up the chapter’s events, but in a cryptic form, like this example from Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men In A Boat”:
Three invalids. — Sufferings of George and Harris. — A victim to one hundred and seven fatal maladies. — Useful prescriptions. — Cure for liver complaint in children. — We agree that we are overworked, and need rest. — A week on the rolling deep? — George suggests the River. — Montmorency lodges an objection. — Original motion carried by majority of three to one.
(Again, from the Project Gutenberg website.)
I mean, aren’t you just dying to read that chapter now? Who here doesn’t want to know what those one hundred and seven fatal maladies were, or the cure for liver complaint in children?
So chapter titles can be a good hook to draw readers into a story. And from looking at the above examples, chapter titles ought to sum up what happens in the chapter, or at least give an indication of the major character or outside force acting on the characters in the chapter.
With the help of Beloved Husband, I sat down and came up with titles for all sixty-three* of my chapters (plus one for the epilogue). I tried to focus on a single item or event that was important for each chapter. I strayed from that theme in only a few places, but not so far from it that it doesn’t still work.
So for anyone who is curious, here are the first fifteen chapter titles from my story:
Chapter One: Sophie’s Lightning
Chapter Two: Papa’s Slide Rule
Chapter Three: A Squashed Hat
Chapter Four: The Royal Academy of Science
Chapter Five: Lawrence Hall
Chapter Six: The Clock Tower
Chapter Seven: A Wager
Chapter Eight: Project Plans
Chapter Nine: Outing Plans
Chapter Ten: An Inspection
Chapter Eleven: An Outing
Chapter Twelve: A Revelation
Chapter Thirteen: More Revelations
Chapter Fourteen: Demerits
Chapter Fifteen: Punting on the Thames
So how did I do? Do the chapter titles intrigue or interest you? Or are they more like the ones from “A Little Princess”–better once you know the story?
* Yes, I have a lot of chapters, but they’re short chapters. That was a conscious decision on my part–because short chapters tempt the reader to read “just one more…just one more…” until before they know it, they’ve read the whole book. Coincidentally, my chapters end up being around a NaNo (1,667 words) each.
(Interestingly, the original draft of the story was half again as long, word-count-wise, but only six chapters longer.)