Chapter headings – does you does or does you don’t?

I decided to try something new (for me) with my latest book. (The Dark Palace, out in January 2014.) I decided not to have chapter headings.

I love chapter headings. Which may be why all of the books I have written so far have them. But somehow I felt that they weren’t right for this particular book.

I felt this quite strongly, even though the previous two books in the same series did have chapter headings. I was anxious about the issue of stylistic inconsistency across the series. But it felt more important to do what was right for this particular book, rather than force it to conform to a fairly arbitrary model.

So why no chapter headings this time? The reason was I had something else going on with the chapters and I felt headings would get in the way.

The novel’s milieu is the early British film industry, the world of silent, black and white, flickering films. What I decided to do with the chapters was to try to mirror the effect of a film of the period by alternating dark and light chapters, which would represent the passage of the frames through the gate of the projector. A moment of illumination followed by a split second of darkness. A flickering of chapters.

This meant that I had to impose a formal structure of DARK LIGHT DARK LIGHT… on my chapters, as well as the structure demanded by the unfolding of the story.

I maintained this pattern until Part Three of the book, when all the chapters, apart from one, were DARK.

When the book went to my editor, she questioned a couple of chapters which she felt weren’t necessary for the story, but which needed to be there to maintain the DARK LIGHT patterning. They were both DARK chapters, I seem to remember.

I took them out. Of course I did. The story is what matters. But, still, I didn’t want to lose the moment of darkness that they had brought with them. So I now began each subsequent LIGHT chapter with a moment of darkness.

Will any reader notice any of this? Probably not – or at least not consciously. But I’m hoping this little play of light and dark might help to create an emotional atmosphere that will add to the pleasure of the book.

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