One Frog Eaten, Ninety-Nine Left to Go

I was almost half-done this round of revisions on Black Wolf when I decided it was absolutely necessary to eat a frog that’s been croaking at me for over a year—I needed to revise all the crappy part and chapter titles that have been mocking me ever since I wrote them.

I tried to give them strong titles from the start, but sometimes I just couldn’t find the  right combination of words to describe the core events/concepts contained in that section. Well, no non-rambly combinations, anyway. After all, the ideal title is short and snappy; it intrigues the reader without giving too much away. It also remains relevant right to the end. If your chapter title stops making sense partway through the chapter, you need to start a new chapter or chop some text.

During this process, I discovered that I had organized some content in a way that created a minor timeline error. <insert silent screaming here.> Nine or ten people have read the book, but it seems no one spotted the issue. Perhaps it would have gone entirely unnoticed by anyone until the end of time, but I couldn’t take that chance.

I was able to salvage all the content, but it needed to be rearranged carefully. I put a lot of effort into organizing scenes and chapters in a way that would keep readers moving around through the story, which has nearly twenty major characters. (The size of the cast is dictated by the myths; I didn’t create this many characters just to confound readers—or myself.) And since this timeline error occurred in the last chapters of the book, I had to work extra hard to make sure that I didn’t focus too long on any one story arc. With all the worlds swirling down the drain, I had to make the swirls shorter and tighter make the story arcs intersect so that everyone could come together to kill everyone else. (This gruesome ending is also dictated by the myths, but I probably would have killed everyone regardless. It’s just what I do.)

However, this shuffle forced me to create new chapters and, therefore, new chapter titles. Fortunately, these new chapters were much shorter as they were the dismembered remains of larger chapters, so they were much easier to name.

The part titles, though…oh, the part titles were likely to be the death of me.

I split the book into parts around this time last year. Since Black Wolf is an unusually long book and I’m a first-time author, I was prepared to self-publish. However, a publisher friend said I should strongly consider making the book a trilogy or three-volume set because he thought it would be easier to find a publisher that way. When I did land a publisher, they weighed the pros and cons of publishing multiple volumes versus one gargantuan book, and decided to stick with one volume. The part titles, however, stayed. The book has seventy-some-odd chapters, so I figured that giving readers additional milestones might help them feel like they’re making progress.

Are we there yet?

Figuring out where to put the part divisions was a little tricky because of the way the story is structured. The story bounces between the present and the future, so determining where to split the book was tricky, and some thematic divisions created a mix of exceptionally long sections and pitifully short ones.  For consistency, I put the part divisions between scenes set in the story’s present and scenes set in the future and, by some miracle, created three parts of nearly equal lengths.

But what to call them? I really wanted to go with the theme of being bound, both literally (as Loki and Fenrir are in the myths) and figuratively (as by oaths, laws, and social expectations). I worked this theme all the way throughout the book, but when I tried to apply it to part titles, they sounded clichéd and amateurish. I appealed to some of my beta readers and editors for help, but they had no suggestions.

I started rereading the Poetic Edda for short phrases that might capture the mood. I picked one delightfully ominous phrase from “Voluspa” (“The Seeress’ Prophesy”), but everything else that sounded good had to be taken out of context to make sense in the book. That simply would not do. I returned to my original themes and have come up with modestly improved titles. I’m not sure if I’ll keep them, but right now they’re pretty good and I’ve got more frogs to eat.  Big frogs. Watch me go.

It looks like Kermit’s writing a book, too, so I won’t eat him. He’d probably just taste bitter. Hang in there, Kermy — I know it ain’t easy being green.

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