Writing Thursday: Entitlement; or, What To Name The Baby (Chapters)

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.







…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.)


About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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5 Responses to Writing Thursday: Entitlement; or, What To Name The Baby (Chapters)

  1. D. E. Atwood says:

    I admit, chapter titles frustrate me when I’m writing. I always feel like mine are too simple, or too derivative, or too… something. That said, I think Shadows is the only piece I’ve written recently that has chapter titles in place (and I seriously waffled on whether to leave them there or not). That said, I think your book is the sort which almost requires the chapter titles. They fit the atmosphere and the image, and I think that the ones you’ve used work for the book.

    I’ve been considering putting them in place for Bullies, in part because I think that’ll be a part of how I outline it (and deal with the different POVs, although that may be way too subtle a touch for what I’m thinking).

    I love all the analysis you’ve done on the ways chapter titles are more than just a set of words before the chapter begins.

    • Well, as you know, I don’t always even write in chapters, let alone have titles for them. But I think they could help form an outline and drive the plot for Bullies. I’d be curious to see what you come up with, in terms of titles.

      • D. E. Atwood says:

        The outline may be my next entry to the workshop, if I can get it to make sense, just to make sure I’m on a pathway that isn’t going completely off the rails (and trust me, this character set wants to do some wonky things, so I could use the early validation). So you may well get to see that title set and index cards that go with it.

        Part of the reason I work in chapters is really that I work in long scenes, which become chapters by default for me. I write an index card, then I come back and fill that in. Although I’ve had some (that have not seen light of day to crit groups) that were worked without chapters and fiddled with later, too. I think that worked out really well for you in yours, and created a tighter pacing in the end.

      • Well, I’ve actually outlined the second half of the short story I’m currently writing. We’ll see how closely I stick to it.

        And I loved your recent LJ posting about outlining and creating a “corkboard” for your characters.

  2. D. E. Atwood says:

    I tend to sketch out my ideas for short stories by writing scene cards, same as for novels, but they tend to be shorter sets of notes. I also didn’t outline In This Moment, I’ll admit, until I got almost to the end. When I could see the end, I jotted down what I wanted the last scenes to accomplish so I knew where I was going.

    Thank you! I will be doing some posts on the process on the blog, too, eventually. But until I get the book written or contracted or something, I’m keeping some of the details under wraps. IDK, I’m just superstitious? So I might talk about it in vague terms, or show corkboards for projects that have gotten trunked (although I don’t think anything stays truly trunked in my brain, since so many of them poke their noses out wanted to be edited eventually). But yeah, that corkboard is a large part of what keeps me going. Seeing the images of my characters really helps me get their voices going. And for me, more than outlining, that’s where my strength lies. So I need that kickstart periodically.

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