Writing a novel is the creative part. Thank goodness my skills in health information systems project management are transferable! Taking my novel, 181 Blackhorse Road, through to publication is a good test of my abilities in managing scope, time, scheduling, cost, quality, procurement, communications, risk……..So far, the project is on track with my novel sent to the copy editor yesterday. Now back to my GANTT chart to tackle the rest.
Ask, and you shall receive! A week ago, I asked my professional Network and friends to help me decide whether to include chapter titles in my upcoming novel 181 Blackhorse Road. They made their voices heard with 39 people answering the survey, and others contacting me through email. When you need input, its best to go to the source; I was not disappointed! The raw results can be found here if you want to take a peek. https://www.surveymonkey.com/stories/SM-63XPZMBV/
Here is my analysis of the data:
Over half of the respondents prefer chapter titles, but their preference came with some caveats. To be meaningful and keep the reader engaged, chapter titles, they said, must function as guides in suggesting what's ahead, but they must be intriguing, perhaps even fun, and not give the chapter content away. For books that jump from character to character or between time periods, chapter titles seemed to be a must. One insight was that chapter titles can function as navigators helping the reader find a passage they liked if they forgot to bookmark it or dog-ear it (depending on the medium).
About five percent of the respondents said they disliked chapter titles, and they were steadfast and direct in providing thoughtful rationales. Chapter titles they said can be amateurish (something I want to avoid in my novel) and can stifle readers from using their own creativity in figuring things out. These responses I thought dove-tailed with the Chapter Likers; if titles are amateurish or give content away then they stifle the reader's own creativity and engagement.
Over a third said they could take or leave chapter titles, but they had their opinions as to what made up a good chapter title. Like those who preferred chapter titles, these respondents didn't want the titles to detract from reader engagement. If titles are included, they need to add to the dimension of the story.
So, to my dilemma of whether to include chapter titles in 181 Blackhorse Road:
According to my survey group, if I include chapter titles, I must do it in a smart way that enriches the story. My chapter titles must be a roadmap that builds intrigue and engagement and makes the reader want to keep turning the pages to figure out the intersection between the chapter title with the content of the chapter. In other words, add some spice, add some zest, add a little mystery.
So, if I include chapter titles, I must be inventive, imaginative, and crafty enough to satisfy one hundred percent of my potential readers. WOW! That is one tall order that tests my strength of creativity. Am I up for the challenge?
No spoiler alerts! It will be for my readers to determine if I was up to the challenge and included engaging chapter titles or if I flaked out and used the fallback of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and …..
My colleagues and friends who know me will probably guess correctly.
As previously posted, I've traded in writing textbooks for taking on the challenge of writing novels. Writing behavioral objectives and multiple-choice questions are now dead to me!
When I started writing my first novel, 181 Blackhorse Road, I was torn between using or not using chapter titles. After all, I told my hyper-curious self, I like a carrot dangled before me about the mystery, conflict, or situation that the next chapter holds. On the other hand, a good book that keeps me in the dark about what's around the corner makes me turn the pages too.
I started 181 Blackhorse Road without chapter titles. Then, about half-way through the book, I added titles, because, well I kind of liked them. Then on draft eight, I took them out but added them back in draft nine.
Just for fun, I took a random sample of fifteen novels to see how the authors treated chapter titles. Disappointing for the researcher in me, the null hypothesis proved true (almost). Fifty-three percent (8/15) included titles, whereas forty-seven percent (7/15) did not!
So, the question remains, should I or should I not use chapter titles in my completed novel?
Then a brilliant insight! I should query my potential readers, friends, and colleagues to help me by asking them what they like and why.
Help an author in a quandary! Do chapter titles ring your bell or not (or who the heck cares)?
Make your voice heard on your preference for chapter titles by taking my three-question survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YJDT3JL_ChapterTitles I'll report the results in about a week.
P.S. I apologize! The first and third questions on the survey are multiple-choice! Yikes, you can take a person out of academia, but you can't take academia out of the person.
When I tell someone that I'm writing a novel, the inevitable question I'm asked, "Is this about your life?" "Well no, but then again, yes," is my stammering response. My novel's story blossoms from my imagination, but that imagination is influenced by my experience, perspectives, and observations. Jane Austin and Alice Munro, for example, wrote about what they knew; separating the author from the story, I believe would be difficult.
The Evan Marshall Literary Agency defines a novel as "a work of written narrative fiction that may be based on or inspired by a true story but does not claim to be a true account." My first novel, 181 Blackhorse Road, fits nicely within this definition: it's inspired about what I know, and what I have experienced and observed about the challenges people face and how they come out on the other side of those triumphantly in a better state or defeated and depleted.
181 Blackhorse Road is a story of emotional maturation, love and betrayal and family intergenerational conflicts and influences that ends triumphantly for some, but not for others. Working in imagination over the past twelve months, I have been amazed at how the book's characters continually surprise me as they evolve from my computer keyboard. Luci did what? What were you thinking, Chris? Berry, that was heavy! Sean, you were brilliant! Marie, how could you go so low? Every day these imaginary people surprised me.
When I came to writing Part 2 of the novel, a lapse of eighteen years from the start of the story in 1966, it was if the switch of a searchlight turned on and the main character's emotional maturation danced across the pages. What an absolute thrill! I also found myself falling in love with characters I would never have anticipated and even being torn between love interests; pure satisfaction that made me smile as the words tumbled across the computer screen!
It has not been my recollections of 1966-1986, nor the locations chronicled in the book, that fueled sixteen-hour days of writing. No! It's been the supplemental research that has proved most fascinating; I'd take a shovel and start digging and couldn't stop, hungry to learn more and examine how historical events, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and psychology would influence the challenges, values, and actions of the story's characters and ultimately their outcome. The things I've uncovered, I've shared and exposed within the whirlwind of my imagination on the pages of my novel, and it is the backstories that I plan to share with my readers in future blog posts. Stay tuned!
Why would a retired university professor whose written textbooks in health information systems decide to write a novel? Wow! That is an off-ramp that doesn't make much sense.
A decade ago, I started my practice as a leadership coach. My focus is on helping women break the glass ceiling and fulfill their leadership and economic potential. Consequently, during the past ten years, I transitioned from writing textbooks to motivational books on creating environments where people flourish through better leadership.
About a year ago, I was on a conference call discussing concepts of what makes a fulfilling life with fellow life coaches. Bang! Like a thunderclap, I had an insight. What would it be like to help people understand the concepts of a flourishing life in a story instead of through a motivational book or text? After all, I thought, storytelling has been the most compelling form of communication for thousands of years. As far as I could recall, none of the great Profits fed up learning objectives and multiple-choice questions to their followers. No! They got their message across through stories.
Motivational books and textbooks give frameworks, theories, and ideas, but they don't immerse us in the human experience. They don't show us how others face challenges, embrace their passions, overcome sorrow, celebrate achievement, quash self-doubts, develop positive emotions and relationships, handle betrayal, or act on aspirations.
Storytelling ignites our imagination and emotion. We experience being part of the story rather than being served up a platter of facts, exercises, and information. As Dr. Pamela Rutledge says, with storytelling, "we become participants in the narrative. We can step out of our own shoes, see differently, and increase our empathy for others. Through imagination, we tap into creativity that is the foundation of innovation, self-discovery and change."
This eye-opener was enough for me to take on the challenge of novel writing. My passion is to help people catapult beyond concepts and theories and jump into the wonderment of imagination in designing a flourishing life for themselves. Storytelling does this best.
Happily, as a novel author I have jettisoned learning objectives and test questions. Ah…the freedom makes me feel as light as a balloon on a summer breeze.