Chapter summary things (in some published fiction)

Discussion in 'Writing' started by SilentDan, Sep 26, 2012.

  1. SilentDan

    SilentDan Registered User

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    I've noticed a very modern trend that's just taking off (that's what it seems like): that is, to put little summaries of what happens in each chapter, under the chapter heading. I just don't know what that's called. I'm not sure what to Google, though I tried "Scaffolding" which gave me something that seemed waaaaaaay too complicated to go in the 'summary goes here' space in published fiction.

    I think my Uni lecturers mentioned it, and that it was actually an old-fashioned thing that some authors used to do but don't any more (with these exceptions). So maybe it's not new, just coming back into style.

    For examples of what I mean, see The Book Thief by Markus Zusack or The Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding (very awesome, fun Dieselpunk adventure series), or to a lesser extent The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (much briefer). It's where the book says 'In which x does y and z is discovered' etc.
     
  2. secluded

    secluded Breaker of Walls

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    Epigraph is what your a looking for I think.
     
  3. zachariah

    zachariah Speaks fluent Bawehrf

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    Dickens used them a great deal, something which Terry Pratchett lampooned in one of his Discworld books (might be 'Going Postal', can't look right now). They are effectively mini-teasers, a marketing tool back in the day when novels were sold chapter by chapter.

    When I see them in modern books, it signals either 'Dickensian spoof' or 'pretentious author'...
     
  4. CMTheAuthor

    CMTheAuthor Life is fantastic, yes?

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    Personally, I wouldn't call Neal Stephenson a pretentious author, and I'd hardly call The Diamond Age a Dickensian spoof. (There is a parallel between that book and Dickens' work, but I won't reveal what it is here, so not to spoil the book.)

    It's like any other tool of writing. Used well, it can create suspense, by making readers question how said events come about. Used poorly, it can reveal details too soon, spoiling the book.
     
  5. KatG

    KatG Fulgurous Staff Member

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    LOL, it's called a preamble. In this particular case, for fiction, it is also sometimes called "Dear Reader" writing. ("In which, Dear Reader, our hero finds himself lost and his friend is chased by a bear...") It's a structural technique and it's not a hot trend. It does sometimes show up in novels. For steampunk, it's a good fit for some sorts of stories. It's used sometimes in children's stories, like The Graveyard Book. But The Book Thief, which is not SFFH, was published in 2007, Graveyard in 2008, Retribution Falls in 2009 (and Diamond Age in 1995.) So I don't think there's a big rush to it.

    It is a fun technique, especially for comic works or fairy tale works. It can be done with mystery works, though it's a bit trickier.
     
  6. N. E. White

    N. E. White Moderator Staff Member

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    Actually, I like these. Wouldn't mind seeing more. Maybe I'll do it for my book(s).

    Why do you think it is pretentious, Zach? It doesn't come across that way to me. I suppose, as CM said, it can be done poorly - like anything else.
     
  7. PeteMC

    PeteMC @PeteMC666

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    Whenever I see one of those, I think of Winnie The Pooh! (Chapter three: in which Piglit hunts a Woozle) :)
     
  8. zachariah

    zachariah Speaks fluent Bawehrf

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    Because I associate it so strongly with work from the Dickensian era. It's a big part of that whole archaic linguistic flavour, so when I see current writers aping it, I assume they're doing so to evoke that same feeling. If it's a period piece, that's fine, it's part of the author's construction kit to create that atmosphere.

    But the need for preambles - a blurb for the chapter - has passed, in the same way as other linguistic motifs (like, for instance, the quaint habit of referring to people and places as 'Miss N_____' and 'the town of _____'). Using such devices in a modern setting is an affectation. It's not something the author has come up with off their own back, either. It's a new Toyota with 50's tailfins.

    That's just my opinion. But then I'm the kind of writer who would sign up for the literary equivalent of Lars Von Trier's Dogme manifesto, if it existed.