Zelda 2: In Which Chapter Heads Are Considered and the Word Count Falls

One problem I’ve been having in the past years (argh) is going too dark. And here’s Zelda, stuck in a house where people are getting murdered, so I can feel the lights dimming. But there’s I’m-so-depressed-I’m-going-to-kill-myself dark and there’s Gorey dark. Black comedy. Or at least Charcoal Gray Comedy. I just need ways to remind myself of that. So I thought about chapter heads. Usually I don’t use chapter quotes or comments or anything besides “Chapter One” because I want the chapter breaks to be invisible, but I’m thinking maybe I’ll try chapter heads this time as part of the story. A little retro post-modernism, if you will, using old techniques to do commentary and play with readers’ perceptions. Usually when I get this clever, i get shot down because clever screws up story telling, and there’s a good chance that’s going to happen again. But I’m going to work with the chapter heads for awhile anyway.

Here’s the chapter head for Chapter One:

You Again Chapter One Head

The big problem is that commentary like that is third omniscient so I’m essentially yanking my reader out of my nice third limited story with every chapter head. That’s bad. And I’m creating distance because it’s hard to attach to characters when the writer keeps telling you at the top of every chapter, “These people are characters in a story, not real people you should care about.” That’s very bad. And it’s very possibly too precious for words. That would be the worst.

But for right now, I’m trying it if only because it gives me another way of seeing the progression for Zelda and James.

What I’ve found as I looked through my plot descriptions is that I kept forgetting who my protagonist was. Everybody in this book has a problem, and I kept writing the plot sentences with different people as subjects instead of “Zelda does this” followed by “Zelda does that.” It’s Zelda’s book. All the sentences of the main plot description should start with her. No wonder this book was a mess, it had no center.

So now Zelda’s back in the center. With plants. Doing perennial jokes. Okay, maybe not, but she’s definitely in the center and I definitely have to learn more about plants so I can keep that as part of her personality. I don’t really know Zelda yet. I don’t think I knew her three years ago, not the way I knew James and Scylla and Rose. I know what she doesn’t want but I don’t know what she wants. Why are negative goals (“I don’t want to go to Rosemore”) so much more attractive (to me at least) than postive goals (“I want to find my father”)? I can give you six reasons why Zelda doesn’t want to go to Rosemore, but I still can’t think of why she wants to find her father. Anger, maybe; she wants to face him and say, “You jerk, you never gave a damn for me.” That might be good except that here comes another angry Crusie heroine. Still, I need something that comes from her character, not from the outside. I need to have a talk with Zelda and ask her what she’s going to do when she finds him. There’s a good question right there.

Oh, and in the meantime, I cut the first scene to 3000 words. I should be able to get more out of there with another couple of run throughs. So that’s almost 5K gone right there. Or course it doesn’t make sense, and when I write the last chapter I’ll go back and change it all anyway, but for right now, I’m moving ahead while the word count falls. Sigh.

30 thoughts on “Zelda 2: In Which Chapter Heads Are Considered and the Word Count Falls

  1. Hmmm? Yeah, chapter headings, they could work .. or not. Put them in for now to ground you, if later you don’t need them, they’re easy to eliminate. Whenever an author goes to the trouble to do those nice quotes at the chapter headings I do read them, but don’t really read them … I’m in a rush to get to the real story.

    I just finished Pat Gaffney’s book, The Goodbye Summer, last night. Stayed up until 2am to do so and suffered all day, but that’s another story … amazing book with wonderful colorful characters, expertly drawn, I adore Magill. And so many characters, but each handled so well. Damn. Oh, to be a Gaffney.

    So, all I’m saying is, go deep, ask your heroine some questions, “How are you feeling? Why can’t you be more candid? What the hell is it that you want? Be honest for heaven’s sake.” Maybe she’ll spit something out and totally surprise you.

  2. I like the headings. Very Old World. Have you thought of a medical reason she needs her father? Even if just to get the answer to a medical question about her genes? And maybe that medical question is why the killer doesn’t want her to know? Hmmmm …

  3. Maybe Zelda’s biological clock is ticking, and she needs to know who her father is, so she doesn’t end up married to her brother. Or maybe just the first part, but it becomes more urgent when she and James are gettig hot and heavy since, IIRC, he could be her brother. Yikes.

  4. Chapter headings…cool.
    They dont pull me out of the story, I think they add to it. A bit like Roben, when you’re into a story you read them but you so into it they dont have the power to take you out. Unless they’re absolutely nothing to do with the story which would be just plain weird and silly. I tend go back and savour them at the end and relate them back to the story.

  5. How about making the headings Zelda first person, f.ex. “In which I get in over my head at Rosemore” or however obscure you want it to be.

    As for a cranky person wanting to find her father? What springs to my mind is a long back-story of dating older men, looking for a father figure. But they keep trying to baby her, which would certainly make me cranky. You could even open a bit like Manhunting, if that fits the rest of the story.

  6. I’ve always enjoyed good chapter headings whether they are like Milne’s for Winnie the Pooh {“Where Pooh…}, or the TV show Friends [“The one where….], or Dorothy L. Sayers which while brilliant I’m sure were so obscure that I never actually knew what point she was making but I knew there was one. Maybe Zelda’s could all be plant related. Or maybe they are just things that keep you going and then readers will say ‘ah, I know this is supposed to mean something but it’s so brilliant that I haven’t figured it out yet.’ Either way as long as it’s helping you keep going, it’s gotta be right.

  7. I rarely read chapter headings when involved with a book, even the clever ones. I might look at them with a second or third read, but generally speaking, nope.

    Maybe Zelda’s mom wants her to find her dad and that sends her on her quest (that said, it’s obvious I’m not a writer ….).

  8. Ditto what Lynn said; I tend not to spend the time to read chapter headings no matter how cute they are . . . but I do like the idea for your chapter headings. They seem very old-school mystery style.

  9. As to why Zelda is looking for her father, I think something happened in her mother’s past which Zelda recently found out about, something that would answer a few of the “why’s” she has about her mother.

    Chapter headings: As this book is to be a nod to the authors of the classic mystery genre of days gone by it would add that old fashioned kind of feel to the book. So I think it can work.

  10. I don’t care about chapter headings either way. If you need to use them like plant stakes to keep the story from flopping around and growing tangled, use them.

    I’m curious about something. If Zelda does not want to go to the house, who is compelling her to go there in the story? Outside the story I know you are compelling her to go, but that’s a given. It seems that if Zelda is not internally motivated, she has to be externally motivated by circumstances or someone else.

    Also? Could this be another instance of having the wrong heroine the way you did with the early versions of Faking It?

  11. I’m not a fan of chapter headings, but I’m a fan of you, so it all comes out in the wash, right. If you write it, I’ll read it, with nary a complaint.

    There are lots of positive goal reasons for Zelda to want to find the father. There are silly things, like, where did I get the dumb cowlick at the back of my head? How come I can make the throw from third to first, but can’t bat worth a damn? To more serious abandonment questions. I think of that John Mayer song “Daughters” and sometimes it fits for the emotionally stunted, or it can be trite.

    With the setting I’m not sure anything except dark, twisted, read it again -you’ll get it-, humor would pass muster.

  12. What McB be said.

    I get a kick out of Kasey Michaels, and I enjoyed her chapter headings in The Butler Did It.

  13. Hearing about a gardener named Zelda at a house named Rosemore makes me think of Thalassa (another great old name!) Cruso’s book Making Things Grow, which came out in 1969 (and is still a great introduction to indoor gardening, if you’re looking for info on that side of things for Zelda). Cruso is on the cover in a twinset and pearls messing around with a Christmas cactus, and she writes about how as a child she did her homework by candlelight in the greenhouse of her family’s stately English home, because it was so much warmer than the living quarters.

    I like the chapter headings (but then, I’m always trying to fit complicated titles and epigraphs and stuff into my own writing). I think that, together with the large, named, apparently slightly sinister house, they kind of make the setting a character in itself, if that makes any sense.

  14. Will you be mad if I reference Susan Andersen’s Getting Lucky? She had very clever chapter headings that were tangential to the story and, I thought, added to the book.

  15. I like the chapter headings, especially as you’re phrasing them (with Chapter One as an example.) I hear it like the movie voiceover guy in my head and that combined with the phrasing make me want to read that chapter immediately. Who are Zelda and James? What is Rosemore and why are they being lured there? And then they’re overwhelmed? Why? How? I must read this chapter NOW!

    Also, regarding Zelda’s search for her father, I offer this. My father was adopted and being a sterotypical accountant, really didn’t have the curiosity to learn more. The people who adopted him were his parents. Period. But not me–loved Grandpa and Grandma, yes, but I had to know. Who was this other family I had out there? What were they like? Did somebody on that tree look like me? I didn’t necessarily want to get to know them, I just had to know. What if Zelda just had to know?

    Dad ended up finding them, I ended up meeting them and a lot more questions were raised once once I did. Zelda may not know what she wants beyond “Why?” but once she finds the answer, she may find a lot more questions.

  16. I also like chapter headings that are wry and sneaky without giving away too much.

    It sounds like Zelda won’t voluntarily go to Rosemore no matter what you (as the author) want. Maybe you should look at ways to COMPEL her to go. Have an external source kick her in the ass to make her go there. She won’t be happy about it, but since it will push her out of her comfort zone, it automatically sets her up for some form of character development.

    You’ve talked about the setting being a Christmas house party. That suggests that people were invited to Rosemore.

    If the others at the party have ACCEPTED invitations willingly and Zelda has been FORCED to come after she turned down the invitation …This gives her a motivation separate from other houseguests.

    — She doesn’t want to be there and they do
    — She doesn’t necessarily want the same outcome that they do (all she wants to do is leave).

    This makes Zelda an outsider and perhaps helps her stand out from the crowd in James’ mind. It also might be an emotional thing that you can fold into whatever development is going to occur between Zelda and her dad (the outsider looking in).

  17. I just got a little hung up on how Rosemore looks like Remorse, but maybe there is something Zelda feels she needs to apologize for. Or someone else needs to appologize, maybe there is a rare perenial that she planted there as a teen and she want’s it back (it mutated or cross bred or something goofy, and Silla told her about it) Hmm.

  18. (Another lurker heard from)

    I always read chapter headings and I love it when they whet my appetite . One of my favorite books by Connie Willis, “To Say Nothing of the Dog,” is a screwball comedy time-travel story set mostly in Victorian England. She uses the chapter heads in a way that harks back to Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog,” and it makes for a wonderful kind of inside joke. I found I enjoyed them even more on rereading. (And by then I’d read Jerome and could recognize more of the connections I’d missed initially–my memory is bad enough I may never catch them all.)

  19. Maybe the “dad” needs Zelda. But, Dad’s “others” don’t want him to need Zelda.

    Jenny has just shared a bit of this story, and I’m already doing “what next?” to myself, just like I do when I read her other books. (and I do it again and again with the same books . .. when I already KNOW what!)

    10 more Zelda days to go!

  20. chapter headings i can really like; i think they’ll add to your story (and like roben said, very easy to eliminate).

    “That might be good except that here comes another angry Crusie heroine.”

    ummm, why is that bad? i love your angry Crusie heroines. i like them a lot better than the stories were the women are angry but will be subtle about it and annoyed. i like when they go up to people and say “jerk”.

    what made you decide Zelda needed to find her dad? i mean, why find her dad when it could be something about her mom, or her best friend, or what? why’d you pick the dad as the reason this all goes on, instead of something else?

  21. Maybe Zelda needs her dad’s medical history for some reason?

    I know lots of people are thinking of the Fitzgeralds when they see “Zelda,” but I’m thinking Nintendo. “Your princess is in another castle!” I know, I’m dating myself.

  22. Like the chapter headings, m’self. Or at least, chapter headings like this, because they’re very both Crusie and very character-centric. (And the Gorey-fied typeface is a hoot.)

    Now, oddly, I never (or rarely) read quotes — poetry and such — at the heads of chapters. I do feel those detract/distract from the story. Especially since, no matter how carefully they’ve been chosen, they’re still written by somebody else. What you’ve got going there is a whole ‘nother animal, mainly because it jibes with the spooky-wry tone I’m guessing you’re going for.

    As for your concern that readers will get jarred out of the world and start seeing the characters as characters instead of people…

    Not to worry. ‘Cause most of us will be reading too fast for that particular blip to even register.

  23. I like chapter headings – I even like footnotes, à la Pratchett and, even more so, Susanna Clarke (of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell). I like the idea of using them to lighten up a little.

    What kind of perennial expert is Zelda? Is she a landscape architect or a plant breeder or does she have a show on HGN? If she’s a plant breeder, she may have an interest from a purely scientific point of view, which could certainly have been nagging at her, without being an obsession.

    Or is she a habitat gardener with a thing about growing native plants? While it is hard to imagine why this would provide an inspiration for wanting to know who her father is (no humans being native to North America, though some are more recent arrivals than others), it might provide a motivation for going to Rosemore. It might be the coup of a lifetime to be able to begin transforming their garden. Or they might have a rare native variety that she wants to try to cultivate for her clients. Since it’s Christmas, almost everything would be dormant (and possibly under snow), but the visit could still be a requirement of the eccentric whoever that controls things.

  24. Here’s the thing: if the chapter headings help you write the story, use them. They don’t have to stay once you’ve got the first (or second or fourth) draft done–to me they seem like a form holding the story’s shape until the story gels enough to hold its own shape.

  25. Zelda found a lump in her breast that was benign, but it scared her plenty. When the doctor asked about a family history of cancer, she could only answer from her Mom’s side. Now she wants to know about her Dad’s side, just in case. So with a recent cancer scare, lately she’s been thinking about death a lot. And then she wanders into a murder…

  26. What about Chapter Headings or Titles related to Zelda’s vocation. Chapter One, Transplanting Hardy Perenniels without Damaging the Roots. Or metaphoric quotes from Zelda’s bestselling Gardening Manual.

    I’m a big fan of good Chapter Titles. I use them in all my books, in a bid to bring them back from Writing Style Heaven. Unfortunately, since I’m not published, it hasn’t exactly caught on.

    The Great Dane suggests first person headings — nice. Very Dickensian. David Copperfield: Chapter One, I am Born. Of course, DC also had PAGE titles. Maybe that’s going a bit too far.

  27. Hesitantly slipping in amongst the chapter heading feedback, and sidestepping it altogether: Negative vs. Positive Goals. I don’t know about Zelda (or you, Jenny), but your comment made me realize that as I grow older/up/sideways I know more about what I don’t want, and discover I know less about what I do want. I wonder if that’s why I gravitate to negative goals most of the time. Hmm.

  28. I wouldn’t be too concerned about building angry heroines. That’s one of the things I love about them is that their lives are often as messy and upsetting as my own. I relate to them.

    Also, I think Susan D’s suggestion is great if you do decide to keep the chapter headings.

  29. One. I honestly never felt Crusie heroines were angry. Eyes of the beholder.

    I really like the chapter headings, but if you wanted to keep it closer to the character, why not have her writing a letter to her absent/dead/whatever father?

    Dear Dad:
    Today James and I went to Rosemore and got nothing but trouble for our trouble.

    Or something.

    I just found this blog today, and it’s very provocative–thought provoking, I mean. And somehow comforting.

  30. Does Zelda need a reason for wanting to know/know about her father?

    Good Gravy Marie, don’t we all of us try our best to understand our fathers, even the ones who were in the house with us for however many years it took us to grow up and move along?

    Lots of people don’t think they can know themselves until they know their ancestors. Come to think of it, Zelda can’t even know her mother until she knows the man her mother mated with, can she?

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