No, I didn't forget the title, I've just been thinking a lot about them lately. Chapter titles in books, specifically—in my book, more specifically. I've never been totally happy with the chapter titles I decided on for the book I have out on submission right now. I've changed them at least four or five times, and finally settled on something simple and inoffensive. It is structured a bit like a journal, so the headings are simply Entry One, Entry Two, etc.
But now that the first round of submissions is finishing and I have collected feedback from several editors, I'm taking another pass through the book and trying to address the reasons that caused them to pass on it. Example: I believe one such editor used the word "meandering" to describe the narrative.
Ok, deep breath—now, how can I fix that? Based on the collective feedback, I'm trimming some fat (I tend toward over-explanation), reinforcing the stakes my main character faces, and making the romantic elements a little more heart-pounding. But as I began working on these adjustments, I once again became frustrated with my chapter headings. If someone turns the page to a new chapter, the heading doesn't excite them, doesn't raise any questions or spark curiosity. I never realized how well headings can be used to push a story forward until I saw that my own were doing just the opposite.
So I started taking a look at how other authors and book designers do chapter headings. There are simple, clean ones. There are beautiful, ornate ones. Some use cryptic titles and some use quotations. On my home book shelf alone, I found all these varieties:
(A big gold star for anyone who can name all nine books!)
I love all of these, for reasons ranging from simplicity to artistry. But what is right for my book? It's so hard to choose!
Ever since a friend got me reading the Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald, I've been in love with them. They're like poetic little time capsules with carefully built crimes inside. Every book title contains a color (The Deep Blue Goodbye, The Long Lavender Look, A Tan and Sandy Silence, etc.) and somewhere in the book, that title phrase appears. Finding it while reading is always like a little treasure hunt for me. A few days ago it dawned on me: what if I used a similar idea for my chapter headings? Not the colors—that's MacDonald's thing—but I could take an intriguing or funny or telling phrase from the chapter and use that as my heading. It would set the scene and hopefully, draw the reader in, give them a little treasure-hunter satisfaction when they came across the phrase in the chapter.
Sold! I'm currently working my way through the revision, changing the chapter headings as I go. The only trouble comes when I have two phrases I love equally and have to decide which to use. But for the first time, I feel good—excited even—about how I'm introducing my chapters. And that little buzz of excitement might be just the thing to power me through the rest of this revision.
What are your favorite ways to kick off a chapter? I'd love to know!