This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
by Anna Bell
In women’s fiction you quite often come across quirky openings to chapters. From text messages to letters, those quirky narrative devices help to give novels their own sense of style, but they can also be a clever way to move the story on.
It’s very common to find little introductions to chapters, too. My favourite example has to be Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. In those, there are reply letters from official people, usually bank managers, at the beginning of the chapters. They’re amusing as you can glean that Becky, the main character, has written to each person with a crazy idea. They often give you an insight into her doomed bank balance and overdraft, too, and help to remind you how desperate Becky is in her plight.
I started using quirky openings in my Don’t Tell series when my editor felt like readers didn’t get a sense of the blog that Penny, my main character, was supposedly writing. To combat this, I started each chapter with a mini blog post. It reinforced the idea that Penny was working hard on the blog, and it also gave readers an idea of what the blog was about. It let the reader into Penny’s world in a bigger way.My last novel, Don’t Tell the Brides-to-Be, had Twitter conversations as the opening to the chapters. The novel started life without them, but my editor felt that it missed something, not having the blog openings of the previous novel. I didn’t want to do blog posts again, as I felt I’d exhausted them and it also didn’t move the story along. Which is when the idea of the Twitter conversations hit me. One of editor’s other criticisms had been that she didn’t get a sense that the brides-to-be chatted amongst themselves, a fundamental part of the end of the novel. I decided to use the Twitter conversations to show that the brides all talked to each other, and to Penny. It showed readers that social networking was a fundamental part of Penny’s business, which was key to the latter half of the story. It also had a dual purpose of signposting both time and what was coming next. If there was a time jump, I could also show that in tweets. For example: “I can’t believe my wedding was three weeks ago…” etc. I also showed what was coming up in the next chapter. For example: “I’m getting married in the morning”, which signalled an impending wedding that Penny was organising.
One of the things I found really interesting was how seriously the tweets were taken by my copy editor. I had thought I’d gone a bit over-the-top with the Twitter handles as I actually checked all of them to make sure I wasn’t using one that was already out there. I then worried that someone could pick the name before the book was published. For a fleeting second I thought about registering all the usernames, before realising that would mean creating about twenty email accounts. But my copy editor was just as ruthless. She made sure every tweet was the uniform 140 characters or under. I’d gone over on a few occasions, thinking that no one would notice, but apparently someone might. It seems that even with quirky openings there’s a huge amount of attention to detail.
I’d definitely use these types of openings in another book, as long as it moved the story along and they weren’t there for the sake of it. Can you think of any good examples of quirky chapter openings? Do you like them, or do you think they detract from the story?