I have a thing about chapter titles. I’m always a little disappointed when an author doesn’t use them, though just numbering chapters is very much the norm these days. The naming of chapters harks back to the days when many novels were first published in periodical magazines. Way back in fact, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As for that matter do chapters as a concept themselves.
A mild digression: One of the most ludicrous criticisms ever levelled at a writer was when one ‘critic’ accused Terry Pratchett of ‘not being a proper writer, or of any literary worth, because he doesn’t writer in chapters.’ This critic was of course an idiot and Sir Terry could and did write his splendid stories any damn way he chose. And if a critic did not find ‘literary merit’ in them, because they were not subdivided into chapters then frankly I question there merit as a critic as they have just proven their opinions to be without worth… But I digress.
Chapters were used to spilt up a novel into monthly/weekly sized chunks to be published in periodicals, and chapter titles were used to add a little hype. ‘coming next month, Horacio Khalid part two’ not having the same punch as ‘ Horacio Khalid continued next month in ‘The torn dress and the dagger’ or ‘The burning of Kroschev’ or ‘The dying of hope’ etc… These days when novels are published in books, chapters don’t serve their original purpose. But it doesn’t mean chapters or chapter titles have no worth. Chapters add structure to a novel. Sometimes they signify a switch in point of view, or a digression on a single subject that while part of the novel as a whole is still separate.
When they have names you also get to play the chapter title game of trying to figure out what a novel is all about form the chapter list. This may be just me but I always find it a fun game…
Chapter titles, which I have always used, do something else. They add a certain tone to the novel as a whole. In my first and most atypical novel Cider Lane for example, each chapters title is a single word, I didn’t plan it that way, but they work for the one of the novel, a contemporary thriller, romance come tragedy which is hard to categorised, even for me. One word chapter titles like ‘Withdrawal’,’Trepidation’, ‘Stars’, and ,’Abigail’ fit the tone of the novel which has a certain bleakness to it. (its a odd novel in many regards, odder still because its one of mine, I worry about it, which oddly also makes it the one that I ask readers opinions of most).
Then there are the chapter titles in Passing Place, which are perfect reflections of the novel itself, which is strange, odd (in a different way to Cider Lane), thoughtful and on occasion weird, titles like ‘The Existential Meanderings of Gaia’,’The Forrest in the Cellar’,’Power according to LaGuin’, and ‘Causality Sandwich’ not only do they fit each chapter, they give an essence of the odd and unworldly nature of Eqwiths Passing Place.
Maybes chapter titles are somewhat deliberate in hearkening back to Victoria periodicals, and obey some careful rule of my own about what they are, as they need to fit the tone of that book and series too. Which while steampunk, and obstructively set in the same universe as the Hannibal Smyth series, though a hundred and fifty years before Hannibal’s own time, the are not told by Hannibal himself. there tone is slightly primmer, a little more serious, yet with a touch of light sensationalism about them. ‘A Soul in a Bottle’,’The Battle of Sheers Wharf’,’An Inking in the Night’. and ‘Whitehall Revelations’ fit that difference in tone from those stories told by Hannibal.
As for Hannibal himself, well the Hannibal novels are told in Hannibal’s own and somewhat idiosyncratic voice. They tend to be a little obtuse and reflective of a more modern sentiment than the ones in the Maybe series, as Hannibal is in a time period somewhat closer to our own despite technology not having advanced in the same way (which is somewhat at the core of both series, Maybe set as it is at the dawn of Hannibal age, when History turned left rather than right). So while they maintain the Victorian periodical theme, they have a twist to them, contain a smattering of pop culture references, and the occasional vulgarity, its Hannibal after all, ‘Avoiding any Imperial Involvement…’ ‘Bullet train to Hiroshima’,’ The Hand of America Lays Upon My Interests’, and a personal favourite of mine ‘The Washbowl Interrogation’.
These titles are all very much in Hannibal’s own voice. They fit the Hannibal novels in tone and substance. Which brings me to why I was thinking about chapter titles in the first place. I’ve just finished the first ( though in some cases forth) draft of the third Hannibal novel ‘A Squid on the Shoulder’ and part of finishing it involved going through the chapters and deciding if the working title for the chapter was going to stay or if it needed a new one. This is because chapters change in the writing and what you think there going to be about isn’t always what ends up on the page. So often working titles are place holders. But now I have the complete list, subject to change in future drafts, but the titles are likely to remain. They are, as ever, very Hannibal…
So as I have them, I thought I would share them. Feel free to play the chapter title game and see what you make of them.