How To Avoid Speed Bumps When Writing Sub-Heads

How To Avoid Speed Bumps When Writing Sub-Heads

I used to live in an apartment block when I was growing up

And there were these twins: Wayne and Dwayne.

And as you’d expect, it was common for me to make a mistake. I’d call Wayne, Dwayne. And Dwayne, Wayne. And sometimes get it right, without knowing if I got it right or not.

Writing subheads for stories are a bit of a Wayne-Dwayne situation

You think you’re writing subheads, but in fact you’re writing a kind of headline instead. I say, kind of headline, because it’s not really a headline, but for the purpose of this exercise, let’s call them headlines and sub-headlines.

When you force a headline into the space meant for a sub-headline, it’s kinda like mixing up names. And mixing is bad enough, but it slows down the pace of the stories without wanting to do so.

Of course, this is all gibberish unless you see an example

But let’s start writing the sub-heads the wrong way to begin with. And let’s take a story like Goldilocks and the three bears.

Note: What follows is a story, not an article—we’ll deal with articles later. OK, let the story begin.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon a house. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.

Her stomach was growling

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

Now the fun part begins

“This porridge is too hot!” she exclaimed. So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.

“This porridge is too cold,” she said. So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge. “Ahhh, this porridge is just right,” she said happily and she ate it all up.

Size Matters

After she’d eaten the three bears’ breakfasts she decided she was feeling a little tired. So, she walked into the living room where she saw three chairs. Goldilocks sat in the first chair to rest her feet.

“This chair is too big!” she exclaimed. So she sat in the second chair. “This chair is too big, too!” she whined. So she tried the last and smallest chair. “Ahhh, this chair is just right,” she sighed. But just as she settled down into the chair to rest, it broke into pieces!

Nap Time

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

The Bears Return

As she was sleeping, the three bears came home. “Someone’s been eating my porridge,” growled the Papa bear.”Someone’s been eating my porridge,” said the Mama bear. “Someone’s been eating my porridge and they ate it all up!” cried the Baby bear.

Did you notice what was happening in the sub-heads above?

They were being used almost like titles/headlines. One title announced that it was “nap time”. Another noted the “return of the bears” and so on it went, announcement after announcement. And that’s not what the sub-head is supposed to do. A sub-head is supposed to smoothen the path between the previous paragraph and the next.

So let’s take the story again, and this time chop off all the headlines/titles, OK?

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon a house. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.

Her stomach was growling

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

Now the fun part begins

“This porridge is too hot!” she exclaimed. So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.

“This porridge is too cold,” she said. So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge. “Ahhh, this porridge is just right,” she said happily and she ate it all up.

Size Matters

After she’d eaten the three bears’ breakfasts she decided she was feeling a little tired. So, she walked into the living room where she saw three chairs. Goldilocks sat in the first chair to rest her feet.

“This chair is too big!” she exclaimed. So she sat in the second chair. “This chair is too big, too!” she whined. So she tried the last and smallest chair. “Ahhh, this chair is just right,” she sighed. But just as she settled down into the chair to rest, it broke into pieces!

Nap Time

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

The Bears Return

As she was sleeping, the three bears came home. “Someone’s been eating my porridge,” growled the Papa bear.”Someone’s been eating my porridge,” said the Mama bear. “Someone’s been eating my porridge and they ate it all up!” cried the Baby bear.

As you can see, we didn’t need those sub-heads at all

The story ran just fine without any intervention at all. So does that mean we can write stories without any sub-heads? No, that’s not what we’re getting at. Instead, you should first look for the sub-heads in the next line itself.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon a house. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.

At the table in the kitchen, there were three bowls of porridge

Goldilocks was hungry. She tasted the porridge from the first bowl.

“This porridge is too hot!” she exclaimed

So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl. “This porridge is too cold,” she said. So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge. “Ahhh, this porridge is just right,” she said happily and she ate it all up.

After she’d eaten the three bears’ breakfasts she decided she was feeling a little tired

So, she walked into the living room where she saw three chairs. Goldilocks sat in the first chair to rest her feet.

“This chair is too big!” she exclaimed. So she sat in the second chair. “This chair is too big, too!” she whined. So she tried the last and smallest chair. “Ahhh, this chair is just right,” she sighed. But just as she settled down into the chair to rest, it broke into pieces!

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom

She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

As she was sleeping, the three bears came home

“Someone’s been eating my porridge,” growled the Papa bear.”Someone’s been eating my porridge,” said the Mama bear. “Someone’s been eating my porridge and they ate it all up!” cried the Baby bear.

And here’s an example of an article

Notice how the story mostly creates its own sub-heads. And all you have to do is let the story run as it normally would and then highlight the sub-heads when you move to a new paragraph.

I graduated from University in the spring of 1983 with a Bachelors in Technical Theatre. I began working building scenery at a couple of small theatres. One was called The Empty Space Theatre and the other was The Bathhouse Theatre. Both were on again off again sort of jobs… not really enough to live on. I was really hoping to get a full time job at one of them, but it was not working out. By the fall I was feeling frustrated.

Then in mid December I got a call from California

Richard, the Technical Director at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre had spoken to Jeff, who was the technical director for the Empty Space and not only did he offer me a job… he offered me the position of lead carpenter in the shop! It was a real job! I was thrilled and ready to start as soon as I could.

Except that he wanted me to start on December 26th

This was a bit sooner than I expected. My enthusiasm was treated to a bucket of cold water when I figured out that I would have to leave in a little over a week! I would miss hanging with my friends in Seattle for the holidays. It seemed a bit abrupt, but I really wanted the job, and I could see that the job market in Seattle was not working out. I told him I would do it.

I packed up my possessions into a one way U-Haul rental truck and headed out

See how David simply used part of his article to create the next subhead. The flow was already in place. He didn’t have to insert anything new. All he had to do was highlight a line to create a sub-head and that got the job done, and done well.

And that’s what you can do too, but let’s pull into the pitstop for a summary.

So what did we cover?

1) Putting in titles/headlines where sub-heads should exist is not a good idea.

2) A title/headline randomly put in creates an interruption, when you just want flow.

3) The way to create flow in a story is to simply use the flow of the story to create sub-heads.

It’s more than likely that we may find ourselves in this Wayne-Dwayne situation

But in time, I found out who was Wayne and who was Dwayne. And you too will see that a headline/title stays at the top of the story. And the sub-heads are located within the story itself.

When you do, you’ll see they’re different and the obvious will make you slap yourself.

I certainly did.

P.S. Do you have a question or comment? Write it here and I will respond.


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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Sean,

    Loved the way you showed how to use subheadings – a perfect and understandable and super-useful demo on a subject that has been blahed to death lately. Thanks so much for making it quick, easy, clear and practical.

    Many thanks and Blessings.

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