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How do you label your chapters?

How do you label your chapters?

  • The POV character's name for that chapter

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • A date and time

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    12
  • Poll closed .

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
As for the OP, I've tried to come up with descriptive chapter titles, but all of my efforts have been surprisingly bad. I'm hoping that I'll eventually stumble on a pattern that works for me, but if not, I'll have to fall back on numbers.

I can't use the POV names. I've only got two POV characters, and each chapter is up to four big scenes, alternating between them.
 
And now we're getting into an interesting discussion. What do we expect our readers to know?

There's what you might call the conventions of fantasy stories, things like dragons, elves and goblins. We all seem to know what they are despite them not being real, and in many ways we as authors expect our readers to know what they are without being told. Is that unhelpful? Probably not.

But what, then, about major authors? I'd suggest that we can and should expect our readers to know who the really big authors are. And Solzhenitsyn was certainly one of them, one of the greatest Russian writers of the twentieth century and for many Russians (and some critics) one of the greatest Russian authors of them all. Assuming our readers don't know is for me dumbing down, especially when I'm assuming that they can handle complex story arcs and deep characterisation. It's even more a case of dumbing down if the author concerned died in modern times - Solzhenitsyn died in 2008 and his death was front page news all over the world.

And now I will be a little controversial and suggest that if we as authors want to be serious about our writing, and more especially if we want to be taken seriously as authors, then we should know who the major authors are and we should have read many if not most of them. My editor is a lot harder than that, she expects an author who wants to be taken seriously to be able to name at least the last ten winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, at least the last ten winners of the Booker Prize and to have read at least one book or text by each of them.

Does that sound hard? Maybe. I thought my editor was asking a lot, but if you've read works by Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, VS Naipaul, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, AS Byatt, Hilary Mantel, Roddy Doyle, Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro you're half way there. And thinking about it I realised what she meant. How else do we learn the art of writing? I will never reach those heady literary heights, but I can be inspired by what I read.
I’ll get down to brass tacks first off - I’m not going to sit back and be essentially called out as ignorant or not writer material just because I had never heard of Solzhenitsyn. I once had a passing interest in Russian history, but at this stage in my life, and with a more enticing list of book and subjects I want to delve into, I am going to say that I am just not interested in reading about gulags right now.

Even as authors we can’t know everything, but in the genre and the market we are writing it’s all about context from my perspective. Dark one said that that reference to Solzhenitsyn was more current at the time of publishing that particular work. If I were to read a book with a reference like that, that I don’t know about I might go off and look it up, as I have done that many times and learned some interesting things in the process. I’m always learning and I never chastise myself for not knowing about something.

For me, I’d apply that same sentiment to my readers. My aim is that ideally my fiction is easily understandable, around high school reading level, not university or college level, which is usually aimed at academia rather than fiction. That doesn’t mean I can’t aim for an adult audience, but I’m also not trying to write the next Brother’s Karamazov (I bet you didn’t think I knew about that).

I will throw a book into the DNF pile if it is just an ego stroke for the author, whereby they really really want their readers to know just how clever they are, and how much academic prowess they can cram into every second sentence. I don’t care about how much knowledge an author possesses, just give me a good story.

I am not going to read all the prize winning fiction in world history because I can’t be bothered. I’ll read what I enjoy and I’ll write what I enjoy too.

I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s work including letters and unfinished work. That is a genre and area that I’m highly interested in and it fuels my love of writing. She is also one of the most prominent and famous authors in the world, and frankly I shall eat my shoe if you can honestly say that you have too. I won’t call you ignorant however if you haven’t.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Well, I do know who Solzhenitsyn is, I dont really know what a Solzhenitsyn day is. I think, if I was go get such a strange reference, and cared, I would go look it up.

While I dont enjoy the fighting, I mean, Finch is right. The expectation that everyone writing and reading will be so well read as to know every acclaimed author of the past, and their work is too far beyond reason for me. Your editor, and yourself too I suppose, are free to make that your endeavor, but dont hold your breath waiting for every one else to. Come back in another generation, and I bet there are even fewer who know Solzhenitsyn is than can identify him today. I bet the vast majority of writers already dont know him. We can argue that they should, but it just is what it is.

Unless I am trying to be the next Solzhenitsyn, I think I can pass on some of these and still create good works.
 
That's a fair caveat. You won't become a capable writer without reading any qualitative works, but I do believe there are strongly diminishing returns in terms of how it will improve your writing after a couple of dozen of such works (arbitrary number). I don't think it matters whatsoever if one knows such and such author, unless cultural capital, not writing accumen is the goal. What matters is that one has a degree of familiarity with writing that has withstood the test of time.
I'd never suggest my opinion is definitive (perish the thought)... but I strongly believe you learn most about writing by reading. Reading a lot.

That's not to suggest people deliberately set out to learn the rudiments of storytelling whenever they read, but what they are doing - over decades - is absorbing (maybe subconsciously) the fundamentals in a way that is superior to purposive learning in later life.

Can you name one successful author who claims never to have done much reading? I'd suggest EL James but even she (to my mind) is very far from successful.
 
And now I will be a little controversial and suggest that if we as authors want to be serious about our writing, and more especially if we want to be taken seriously as authors, then we should know who the major authors are and we should have read many if not most of them. My editor is a lot harder than that, she expects an author who wants to be taken seriously to be able to name at least the last ten winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, at least the last ten winners of the Booker Prize and to have read at least one book or text by each of them.

Does that sound hard? Maybe. I thought my editor was asking a lot, but if you've read works by Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, VS Naipaul, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, AS Byatt, Hilary Mantel, Roddy Doyle, Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro you're half way there. And thinking about it I realised what she meant. How else do we learn the art of writing? I will never reach those heady literary heights, but I can be inspired by what I read
I'm going with a hard disagree here.

I'd never heard of Solzhenitsyn before this topic, and of the list of authors given, I only recognize Margret Atwood by name, and that only because she had a recent bestseller which got made into a tv series in a Handmaid's tale. And I consider myself a decently well read person. I just have no interest in literature or prize winning books.

I think it's a very elitist view of writing. If you want to write Nobel Prize or Booker Prize worthy literature, then by all means study their books. However, if you want to write fiction that actually sells, then read popular authors in the genre you like. You will learn far more about writing modern fantasy by studying Brandon Sanderson than you will by Harold Pinter. And if you want to write fiction that sells in big numbers, studying E.L. James might actually give you far better results than studying Doris Lessing.

That is not to say they can't teach you anything. If you have an interest in them or their styles, then by all means studying them. But that is no different from any other author. And to say that you must if you want to be serious about your writing is a vast exageration in my mind. The only jard-stick for being serious about your writing is that you write and try to improve your writing.

As a sidenote, winning awards is as much about making the judges feel good about themselves and like they are guarding some literary bastion as it is about writing actual good books. The Lord of the Rings was one of the most influential books of the 20th century and in several surveys The Lord of the Ring has been voted book of the century. And yet it didn't win any non-fantasy awards during the author's life. And if you want to study any book as a fantasy writer to improve your craft, then you're much better off studying him than any literary authors.
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
I'd never suggest my opinion is definitive (perish the thought)... but I strongly believe you learn most about writing by reading. Reading a lot.

That's not to suggest people deliberately set out to learn the rudiments of storytelling whenever they read, but what they are doing - over decades - is absorbing (maybe subconsciously) the fundamentals in a way that is superior to purposive learning in later life.

Can you name one successful author who claims never to have done much reading? I'd suggest EL James but even she (to my mind) is very far from successful.
Suppose I can't. I could find some who were accused of it, but I wasn't able to verify those by words of the authors themselves. In part that might be because few authors would admit such a thing, but I do concede that at the heights of any given discipline any advantage is needed. If on the other hand one's ultimate goal is to be a moderately successful Indie book writer (which I imagine many on this site will relate to), I think it is fine to prioritise writing over reading by a long shot.
 

Not_Alice

Dreamer
Wow, this thread derailed quickly. As to the opening post, I'd say that depends largely on the type of book you write. Sometimes you need to open a chapter with stating where or when you are. Sometimes, the style wants chapter titles. Sometimes numbers will do. I've done all three.

As to the rest... I guess not every reference needs to be got. I have a YA series where I drop about a million references to music. Some of my beta readers enjoy themselves with going all out trying to identify each and every song, some just don't care. Either is okay. I'd expect a reader to have some spark of curiosity, though, and not complain if they don't get a reference, but go and see if they can figure it out.

And reading is vital for a writer, though I'll be the first to admit that writing has sapped some of the joy out of reading for me. There's always a tiny little editor at the back of my mind going mad over tiny details...
 
I'm going with a hard disagree here.

I'd never heard of Solzhenitsyn before this topic, and of the list of authors given, I only recognize Margret Atwood by name, and that only because she had a recent bestseller which got made into a tv series in a Handmaid's tale. And I consider myself a decently well read person. I just have no interest in literature or prize winning books.

I think it's a very elitist view of writing. If you want to write Nobel Prize or Booker Prize worthy literature, then by all means study their books. However, if you want to write fiction that actually sells, then read popular authors in the genre you like. You will learn far more about writing modern fantasy by studying Brandon Sanderson than you will by Harold Pinter. And if you want to write fiction that sells in big numbers, studying E.L. James might actually give you far better results than studying Doris Lessing.
I don't think anyone has actually said you must read X books. Mad Swede said he expected certain things of himself and (to some extent) those who want to get every reference out of his books, but apart from that the main point has been that reading is important.

Read what you like, but read often is my point.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I didn't recognize the Solzhenitsyn reference (we're all using copy/paste on that name, right?), but it did ring a bell when someone explained. He's one of a group of "Life is shit and just gets shittier" Russian writers. If you want to understand all the possible contours of the literary world, they usually suggest you read one of them, although it's usually Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. If you're writing grimdark fantasy like ASOIAF, then reading one of them is reasonable advice, otherwise it might be helpful but is pretty low priority.

The goal of knowing about different authors is in making choices about which ones are helpful for you to read. I'd rather outsource that, personally, but I've been unable to find a good list. What are the twenty books you should read if you want to write fantasy today? What am I supposed to be looking for from each book? I haven't seen lists that take that perspective.

And don't just say bestsellers and award winners. There are still so many of those that it doesn't help.
 
What are the twenty books you should read if you want to write fantasy today? What am I supposed to be looking for from each book? I haven't seen lists that take that perspective.

Great questions - separate thread material?
 

LittleOwlbear

Minstrel
I usually overthink chapter names while writing, so I put numbers on them and rethink them later when I'm uploading them, which is often way more difficult than it should be. Normally I try to put some meaning behind it and other deep shit, it shouldn't seem too pretentious either ofc.
Maybe I'll use POV character names in the future, but there are only three - at first only two.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
What are the twenty books you should read if you want to write fantasy today? What am I supposed to be looking for from each book? I haven't seen lists that take that perspective.

Great questions - separate thread material?

I was only asking rhetorically, but it would make a good thread. I've got too much on my mind to start one, but maybe someone else would.
 

Mad Swede

Auror
I’ll get down to brass tacks first off - I’m not going to sit back and be essentially called out as ignorant or not writer material just because I had never heard of Solzhenitsyn. I once had a passing interest in Russian history, but at this stage in my life, and with a more enticing list of book and subjects I want to delve into, I am going to say that I am just not interested in reading about gulags right now.

Even as authors we can’t know everything, but in the genre and the market we are writing it’s all about context from my perspective. Dark one said that that reference to Solzhenitsyn was more current at the time of publishing that particular work. If I were to read a book with a reference like that, that I don’t know about I might go off and look it up, as I have done that many times and learned some interesting things in the process. I’m always learning and I never chastise myself for not knowing about something.

For me, I’d apply that same sentiment to my readers. My aim is that ideally my fiction is easily understandable, around high school reading level, not university or college level, which is usually aimed at academia rather than fiction. That doesn’t mean I can’t aim for an adult audience, but I’m also not trying to write the next Brother’s Karamazov (I bet you didn’t think I knew about that).

I will throw a book into the DNF pile if it is just an ego stroke for the author, whereby they really really want their readers to know just how clever they are, and how much academic prowess they can cram into every second sentence. I don’t care about how much knowledge an author possesses, just give me a good story.

I am not going to read all the prize winning fiction in world history because I can’t be bothered. I’ll read what I enjoy and I’ll write what I enjoy too.

I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s work including letters and unfinished work. That is a genre and area that I’m highly interested in and it fuels my love of writing. She is also one of the most prominent and famous authors in the world, and frankly I shall eat my shoe if you can honestly say that you have too. I won’t call you ignorant however if you haven’t.
Yes, I have read some of Jane Austen's works. And also the Bronte sisters. And Dickens. As for fantasy, I enjoyed Lord Dunsany's works. Quite frankly, the world of English language literature is far broader and sometimes much more challenging that what gets written in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. As to why I read all those works (I wasn't an author then), to be honest there isn't always much else to do when you're off-duty on a peacekeeping mission in some distant part of the world. I read a lot, and I read widely. Did I enjoy all of the books I read? No. But I finished them all and I don't regret having read any of them. Sometimes those works gave me insights into other national cultures and the people whom I had to work or interact with.

Why do I read when I am so severely dyslexic? Because I refuse to give up in the face of my disability. Did I learn how to write from all that reading? Maybe. I don't know. I certainly learnt what sort of books and stories I liked to read, and I'm sure those books all had some influence on how I write.

What we read is a matter of personal choice. But what we don't choose is how we're seen as authors. For many of us that doesn't matter. As you say, we're not trying to win a Nobel Prize, we're trying to entertain our readers. Writing a piece of pretentious trash doesn't impress me or my readers. It was Sharyn McCrumb (she who wrote Bimbos of the Death Sun) who suggested that if you wanted academic tenure in the literary world you had to write something hard to understand, get it reviewed by some collegues at another university and then gain tenure based on your literary reputation - and she was only half joking.

Sitting being interviewed about something you've written can be a challenge, because any half-way serious journalist is going to ask you what you've read and how that has influenced you. That's especially true if they're writing something for the arts or cultural pages of the newspaper. It becomes even harder if some critic thinks they've identified some major author's influence on your writing and you get asked about their works. There's an expectation that you as an author read widely, however unfair that may be. I may write for fun and because my readers enjoy what I write, but it doesn't look so good if I don't know the major authors, and at that point my publishers will have something to say.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
I dont really have chapters in my story. But I do try to label the parts. Mostly, I want it to capture something about what the large section is about. I am mostly happy with those titles I am using, but some.....need some work. Fortunately, they are not published yet.
 

Karlin

Troubadour
About Chapters: It depends what I'm writing.
About Reading: I don't know how anybody can write without having read a lot. I'm not a fan of "20 books you must read", or "Read Nobel Prize writers", but one should read. I find some of my most interesting reading is random, like The Master and Margerita, which was on sale, Byatt, I found "Possession" in a free street library.
Solzhenitsyn- this may be a generational thing. If you were of reading age during the Cold War, you were likely to read him. If you're younger, you may never have heard of him.
I admit to glaring gaps in my reading. I've read the Bible, but never read Homer. And there are a few Terry Pratchett novels that I only read once.
 
Yes, I have read some of Jane Austen's works. And also the Bronte sisters. And Dickens. As for fantasy, I enjoyed Lord Dunsany's works. Quite frankly, the world of English language literature is far broader and sometimes much more challenging that what gets written in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. As to why I read all those works (I wasn't an author then), to be honest there isn't always much else to do when you're off-duty on a peacekeeping mission in some distant part of the world. I read a lot, and I read widely. Did I enjoy all of the books I read? No. But I finished them all and I don't regret having read any of them. Sometimes those works gave me insights into other national cultures and the people whom I had to work or interact with.

Why do I read when I am so severely dyslexic? Because I refuse to give up in the face of my disability. Did I learn how to write from all that reading? Maybe. I don't know. I certainly learnt what sort of books and stories I liked to read, and I'm sure those books all had some influence on how I write.

What we read is a matter of personal choice. But what we don't choose is how we're seen as authors. For many of us that doesn't matter. As you say, we're not trying to win a Nobel Prize, we're trying to entertain our readers. Writing a piece of pretentious trash doesn't impress me or my readers. It was Sharyn McCrumb (she who wrote Bimbos of the Death Sun) who suggested that if you wanted academic tenure in the literary world you had to write something hard to understand, get it reviewed by some collegues at another university and then gain tenure based on your literary reputation - and she was only half joking.

Sitting being interviewed about something you've written can be a challenge, because any half-way serious journalist is going to ask you what you've read and how that has influenced you. That's especially true if they're writing something for the arts or cultural pages of the newspaper. It becomes even harder if some critic thinks they've identified some major author's influence on your writing and you get asked about their works. There's an expectation that you as an author read widely, however unfair that may be. I may write for fun and because my readers enjoy what I write, but it doesn't look so good if I don't know the major authors, and at that point my publishers will have something to say.
I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of the Russian gulag author to be honest because I’ve read a fair amount of fiction relating to Cold War and WWII. On oppressive regimes - North Korea has been an interest of mine with ‘Nothing to Envy’ sticking out as being one of the most compelling books I’ve ever read.

~ as for the books that have inspired my own writing, sure I write historical and fantasy, but it’s a really wide range with probably more influences from gen fiction.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
I have a hard time *not* naming chapters. It's even more detailed than that, and this is due largely to the software I use, which is Scrivener.

While I can use most any software and put each scene into a separate file, Scrivener is sort of design to work that way and I've got into the habit of writing that way. One to several scenes (files) become a chapter. This lets me move scenes around easily.

Were I to go with numbers, I would have a hundred or more files, each with utterly nondescript descriptors. Few words in any language communicate less information than "one" "two" "three" and so on. Many of the file (scene) names are clumsy and nearly all are ad hoc.

By the time I have a completed work, I could certainly revert to numbers. But by then I've been naming stuff right and left, so it's more a matter of selecting than inventing. I do struggle with some, even so. I do think it would be a real challenge to come up with chapter titles beforehand, or even post-production. Here is a case, though, where the choice of software has a somewhat direct effect on the writing process.
 
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