On Chapter Titles, Outlines and the Adventure of a Story Coming Together…

Are chapter titles important? Do they matter as much as the story itself or is a number all that’s needed? I’ve seen authors that eschew the idea of deliberately named chapters and opt instead to simply number them out as the story marches on. I found myself, through the exploration of Genevieve’s story in The Girl in the Storm, intrigued by the idea of creating titles that connect in some meaningful way to the story that follows after. Whether it matters as much to a reader as it does to me is a question I can’t answer, at least not yet, but I have found the experience of creating “the perfect title” to be almost as rewarding an experience as fashioning together the story itself. I suppose that time will tell whether it was an endeavor worth the effort behind it, but if anything I hope that future readers of my work can take some measure of interest in deciphering the meaning (double, hidden or otherwise) that may lurk within the titles of each chapter.

Over the years as I struggled to find my way as a writer, I found that the greatest obstacle before me was my inability to commit to an idea once formed. Ideas can, at times, come swiftly and unexpectedly but my commitment to seeing that idea through to completion has kept me from writing perhaps as much as one would expect of one who recently reached a year past the age of forty. As a writer I had always strayed from the thought of outlining my ideas, convinced as I was that I would simply end up straying from that outline by the time I sat down to bring that idea to life. It seemed a futile gesture in the end. Why waste time outlining something when the act of writing might inevitably change the work that had gone into all that planning?

I decided, when I found myself facing the all too familiar sensation of drifting away from the story that would eventually become The Girl in the Storm, that maybe it might be wise to rethink my aversion to the idea of the dreaded outline. It was, in the end, the best choice I could have made. Yes, there were times when the story evolved in ways that didn’t quite confirm to that initial outline of ideas and narrative beats, but the structure helped instill a kind of discipline that I was lacking. I suddenly had a focus that I lacked in all those attempts before to write a novel, and with that very rudimentary outline of major narrative beats, chapter by chapter, I began to gain a confidence in myself that wasn’t quite there before. I didn’t lose interest in the story of Genevieve, as I feared that one day I might, instead I was now determined to see her story told in full and I had a road map, as simple as it was, to guide me on the way. The outline, which I had avoided for so long, is the tool that pushed me forward.

Would The Girl in the Storm be here without that simple bit of work? No, I can’t honestly see how that story could have taken shape without it. Will I use it again for each and every book that follows? Absolutely. The lesson here is simple: Find whatever tools help you as a writer, and embrace them fully. It’s easy to give up and drift away from the ideas that capture our imagination, and too often we find ourselves losing an opportunity to tell a story that might have been as captivating to others as it was to us when that inspiration first appeared.

Published by Christopher Stanfield

Christopher Stanfield is a West Texas native whose love of writing began at the age of fourteen, inspired by a love of mythology, science fiction and fantasy. And though he’s spent the past twenty years in IT for a small bank, writing is the one passion that never quite let go.

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