Stuck Revising a Novel?– Title your Chapters!

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Almost called this blog post– “The Endless Revision”, “Revision Slump”, or “I Don’t Want to be One of Those People that Never Finish Writing Her Stupid Novel”.

But no.  This post is about Chapter Titles and Chapter Title-ing.

After fiddling with the opening line of my novel “Dwarfed” for the umpteenth time ( “The dwarfs milled around the alley, smoking, holding soda cans aloft, and sweating spectacularly”, “The sky was white”, “Kneeling behind a garbage can, I counted”. etc. ) I made a decision to do something.  To actually accomplish a finite action.

Going through a hard copy print out– 165 luscious pages!– with a ballpoint pen, I gave all 53 of my chapters descriptive titles.  Kindly, I’ve listed these 53 chapter headers below.  Now all you Evelyn Wood-ers can get the full effect of my novel without actually reading it.  Yay!

Hmm.  I do remember a commenter on Amazon saying how she found chapter titles to be annoying and distracting.  Perhaps I shall prove her point.  So be it.  “We are who we are,” as Felix Unger wisely said.

Here goes.

1)  I See The Dwarfs

2)  A God For Cads

3)  The Love Man

4)  Back To The Alley And Plan A

5)  Menaced By Dwarfs

6)  Hotel Hera

7)  My Happy Pictures

8)  Red Room

9)  Eva

10) A Hotel Maid Has Expectations

11) Dumping Eva

12) Plan B: In Which I Am Female

13) Tracking Tim– Her Dwarf in Charge

14) The Junk Shop

15) Kiss

16) Ransacked!

17) Plan C: Government Worker

18) Ghost

19) Tim, Unfortunately

20) Poetry Contest

21) Bathroom Interlude

22) Violence! Violence!

23) The Dress

24) One Bad Apple

25) Professor Tim

26) Torturer Tim

27) Apparently I Have Performed Earlier Today But Not In The Sense I Normally Mean

28) Eva Is Insane

29) Mildred

30) Dizzy Decompress

31) Perhaps Eva Is Not So Crazy

32) Eva Is Nuts

33) I Attempt to Phone Snow White   “Blanche Winters”

34) Plan D: The Feminist Bookstore

35) Word Games

36) More Misadventures With Dwarfs

37) I Have A Son?

38) Crazy Eva Redux

39) A Potent Dream

40) Masha

41) The End Of Masha

42) Discombobulated

43) Rumors About Her

44) The Mermaids’ Curse

45) Inspiration

46) Plan E: Final Plan

47) Alpha Dog

48) Sex, Sex Everywhere But…

49) Hospital

50) Should I Marry?

51) A Daring Escape

52) Library

53) I See Her

Well, there you have it.  In less than twenty seconds you’ve read the entire arc of something I’ve worked on for almost as long as Nathan Detroit’s been engaged to Adelaide.

Unrelated Aside:  Did there ever really exist a Frenchwoman whose husband told her to “stop her silly prattle” and then she never spoke again for 30 years or so until she died?  Or is that just an urban legend?  It was listed in an “Amazing Stories” paperback in a thrift store today.  Unfortunately, I did not purchase the book which also related how armadillos can roll themselves into balls and how opossums faint when frightened.  Anyway, I hope it’s true.  I do so admire that kind of fortitude in holding a grudge!

But getting on topic.  Even if chapter titles are annoying and distracting–  I like them.  In Evelyn Waugh’s “A Handful of Dust”, my favorite chapter title is “Hard Cheese On Tony.”

Some of my chapter titles need work.  “A Daring Escape”, for example.  Still, naming the chapters gave me a sense of the story’s shape.  If you’re stuck in a revision– changing the same words back and forth endlessly, it could be something to try.

Whatever you’re working on– a play, short story, or novel– just know it’s important to finish.  But you– whoever you are– are obviously better acquainted with that fact than I am.

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4 thoughts on “Stuck Revising a Novel?– Title your Chapters!

  1. Kit Dunsmore

    What a great idea! As I’m working, a phrase will pop in my head and I’ll think, “that’s a title”. So I’m tempted to go with chapter titles, too. I think they can be like titles for poetry and add yet another layer to the meaning, but I like the idea of using them to get a handle on what you have, your story arc, and what you might need to change.

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  2. Hiya. Yes, I’m definitely pro-chapter titles for all the reasons you stated. There are lots of micro-decisions with writing a novel– even about whether or not to have chapters at all. I admire the writers who can do without but I admit to liking a breakoff point when I’m reading. Related to breaks, when I first opened the novel Blindness I was at first daunted by the look of the unbroken text. But there’s an author who didn’t need paragraphs– or even character names– to make his story compelling. Thanks very much for your comment, Kit. Success on your Kingdoms series and fairytale novel!

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