Monday, June 23, 2008

Bookbuilding: New Chapter Lures

Getting a reader to make it all the way through a book involves a whole series of challenges.

First, the cover has to be attractive enough (or come with enough word-of-mouth/blog buzz) to make a potential reader pick it up.

Next, it has to pass the Glance at Back Cover Blurb test.

Then, once actually cracked open, it must pass the First Paragraphs test (and for some PRs, the Final Sentence test.)

If the book has suvived this rigorous series of auditions, there is a good chance the PR will take it home.

But! It doesn't stop there. The book has to be strong enough to make the PR keep picking the book up after every time she/he stops reading to go do other things. Sometimes, even for lifelong, devoted readers, a whole great big book with never-ending words can become daunting, and turn the situation into a DNF from sheer exhaustion.

Some authors counteract this by giving each new chapter a catchy title. More power to them; Apprentice Writer has a hard enough time coming up with catchy book titles, let alone a few dozen more for chapters.

An alternative, handy little device called the EPIGRAPH.
Those little snippets of something or other that can head a new chapter. Apprentice Writer loves them, because they give a little taste of the topic in the upcoming chapter, because they often let the author show a different point of view or style than in the regular content which adds interesting contrast with the bulk of the wriring, and because they help ease the reader into the new subdivision.

There are as many potential ways to do this as there are writers.

One of the most common methods is to include a QUOTE This is Apprentice Writer's preferred method, along with definitions for new word creations:
"Greenager (n) : an ecologically conscious adolescent."

Jennifer Vandever used authentic quotes from the correspondence of Charlotte Bronte in 'The Bronte Project', going a step further by making each chapter title a phrase from that quote:
"It is painful to be dependent on the small stimulus letters give." C. Bronte to E. Nussey, 1850

Another popular method is to offer tips in the manner of an ADVICE COLUMNIST:
Eileen Rendahl , 'Unbridaled'
"Chloe's Guide for Runaway Brides: Don't pamper yourself in the days after your unwedding. Keep busy. Try a home improvement project. It's not like you have to keep that manicure nice for anything."

Cara Lockwood, 'I Did (But I Wouldn't Now)'
"Reason #2 to Divorce a Rock Star: He looks better in leather pants than you do."

Jennifer Crusie, 'Agnes and the Hitman', did this also with cooking advice and table manners.

In 'The Raven Prince', Elizabeth Hoyt unfolds a FAIRY TALE with parallels to the main story.

In 'Unpredictable', Eileen Cook began each chapter with a HOROCOPE.

In 'Confessions of a Serial Dater', Michelle Cunnah lists protagonist CONFESSIONS:
"Sometimes I wish I were a turtle. Amongst many other fine qualities, turtles can breathe through their asses, which would be a pretty handy fail-safe ability to possess..."

And the most successful epigraph gambit of them all may possibly be in Julia Quinn's 'The Duke and I', where each chapter opened with a tidbit of upper class GOSSIP taken from the scandalsheets written under the pen name of Lady Whistledown. Originally created as a means for Ms. Quinn to provide background information for the reader without having the novel characters engage in tedious long conversations about past history, Lady Whistledown took on a life or her own as readers tried to guess which of the novel characters the mysterious Lady really was. This reached the point that two followup volumes bear the Whistledown name in the anthology titles.

Gentle Reader, what other types of epigraphs have you encountered? And if you write: do you use them or not?

4 comments:

Wylie Kinson said...

I enjoy the epigraph method (though I never knew that's what they were called).
My critique is using such a beast in her latest wip and it's a wonderful curiousity builder.

The one I remember is Bridget Jones's... # of cigarettes, weight, etc

Thomma Lyn said...

I don't use epigraphs, but after reading your post, I might start experimenting with them!

The turtle quote cracked me up!! :)

M. said...

wylie - i can't believe i forgot about bridget jones, the classic example of how to use epigraphs (even very brief ones) to keep reminding the reader of what's important to the heroine and what her current feelings about her self are like! great example

thomma lynn - yes,i liked that one also, and many of the rest of the epigraphs from that book are similarly funny. michelle cunnah was part of the now-disbanded grog 'literary chicks', along with eileen rendahl (who also appears in this blogpost) and lani diane rich (who appeared in previous ones).

Annie Wicking and Loman Austen said...

Wow, thank you for a great idea.

Now I've got to go back to the drawing board again... Or is that the scribbling pad?

Titles for my chapters.. oh mmm, I shall have to reach for my book of unforgettable quotations.

Best wishes,

Annie.

ps thank you for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment.