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Chapter Titles?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Svrtnsse, Mar 18, 2021.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Every now and then, I see comments or memes about how chapter titles are cool, and authors should put them in their books.
    I'm not overly fussed about them myself, but it does add a little something to the experience when the chapter heading is more than just a number.
    Sometimes, I try to figure out if the title is a hint of what's to come, or if there's a special meaning to it, but as soon as I turn the page, the title is forgotten and I no longer care.
    I'm currently in the process of revising my books, and one of the things I decided to do was add chapter titles. It's fun to do, but it's brought up a number of questions:
    • Do you remember the title of a chapter once its out of sight? (I don't)
    • Do you expect the title to be relevant to something that happens in the chapter? (I do)
    • Do you worry that chapter titles might include spoilers? (I sometimes do)
    • Do you pick up on if a book's chapter titles adhere to a common theme? (I don't, but I like the idea)
    • Can you recall a book where the chapter titles made an impression on you that lasted beyond the chapter/book? (I don't) What book was that, and what was the chapter title?
    S.T. Ockenner and Maxine Carr like this.
  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    In answer to your questions (all of them): No.

    I don't ever use chapter titles in my books, and I only have chapters because my editor insists that I have them. Personally I'd prefer not to use chapters, but I'm told many readers don't like this.
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  3. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    My chapters are written from the POV of specific characters. Hence, chapter titles, such as they are go something like:

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  4. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Scribe

    Chapter titles are another oppurtunity to shape a readers perception of your fantasy world. Great chapter titles help to frame the chapter to come and can either provide questions or answers for readers.
    At a base though, chapter titles can help readers find their place when going back through a book, and help to reorient a reader if there are multiple settings/perspectives in a story.

    To answer your questions;
    I dont usually remember them, unless they made me ask a question,
    I do expect them to be relavent, though not always obviously so,
    Sometimes the point is to guide a reader, so i dont worry per se,
    Beyond the chapter yes, but nothing stands out as lasting beyond the book besides impression. I liked the chapter titles in the obsidian trilogy, but i couldnt remember one without getting the book back out.
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    The Percy Jackson series uses chapter titles well with such ones as, "I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher," "Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death," and "Grover Unexpectedly Loses his Pants."

    Of course, the humorous nature of those means that for non-YA books that route would fit something like Discworld, but I can see using a quote from a character being used for a chapter title.

    The webnovel Worm more or less gathered its chapters in little arcs so its chapters were labelled 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc and the next arc would start with 2.1. Similarly there's a fanfic I follow that updates with roughly 1k words daily. It's divided up into episodes and each update is labelled part 1, 2, 3, etc of each episode.
  6. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    I rarely remember chapter titles while reading the chapter. I expect them to be relevant to the chapter, but the relevancy doesn't have to be apparent. In my own writing I sometimes worry that a chapter title contains spoilers, and I will change the title if I think this is the case, when reading, not so much.

    As a sidenote, one of Britains best selling author of all time, Terry Pratchett, didn't use chapters at all in many of his works. So readers care a lot less about them then some people may think.

    A fun extra in chapter titles is adding an epigraph, the little quote thingies below the chapter title before the text begins. They can add some worldbuilding flavor to your story and can be a nice extra for people paying attention to them if they form their own tale (like they did in the mistborn series for instance). Just be aware that if you use them that there are plenty of readers who simply skip them.
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  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. Much appreciated.

    I thought about adding epigraphs, but quickly decided against it as I had enough of a hard time coming up with chapter names.

    My current plan for my own chapters is that I want the names to be such that if someone re-reads the book, the chapter titles will be meaningful to them, but not to someone who reads the book for the first time. In fairness, I doubt anyone will read the book twice, but it seemed like a good criteria to start with.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  8. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I like chapters [gives me a place to pause while reading] but I don't remember a chapter title.
    Maybe if they were done Friends style "The one where/with/when..."
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  9. Maxine Carr

    Maxine Carr Dreamer

    I do use chapter titles but they are mainly for me. I have them listed so if I need to check on a fact or spelling of a characters name I know where to look. For me it saves trawling through hand written notes and un-named chapters.
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  10. I like them. Like to use them as well. I don't have a format for them but as long as they fit the theme of the chapter and the book overall, they're unobtrusive and work fine for me.

    • Do you remember the title of a chapter once its out of sight? Sometimes, but only for as long as I am reading the book.
    • Do you expect the title to be relevant to something that happens in the chapter? I don't carry an expectation it will, but I assume it is likely to be relevant in some way.
    • Do you worry that chapter titles might include spoilers? No, I can't think of a book where that was true.
    • Do you pick up on if a book's chapter titles adhere to a common theme? Yes.
    • Can you recall a book where the chapter titles made an impression on you that lasted beyond the chapter/book? Not really, in a few rare instances yes, but overall they're only relevant in the context of the story and fade away soon after I've read it.
    S.T. Ockenner and Svrtnsse like this.
  11. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    I don't use chapter titles, because I feel like I can never come up with ones that are "good enough," whatever that means, and I'd rather spend my energy on the stuff that actually matters (the text itself). The only chapter title I remember at all is "This is the part where she kills you" from Portal, because it's reiterated multiple times (character dialogue, achievement notification) to really hit you with the 180 in tone.

    Dune had epigraphs for its chapters, which were all quotes from various books about/by Maud'dib, which fits the theming of the book that the Princess Irulan is the narrator and writing all of this. But I also believe that Dune would never get (traditionally) published in today's markets for multiple reasons. The epigraphs really up the word count, and as it's at ~190k, that's absolutely insane for a debut novel and most editors/agents would tell you to do without them. But if your wordcount is reasonable (and it fits the tone/theme you're going for) then yeah, do them.
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  12. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    Some of my books--especially the earlier ones--have chapter titles but they often seem rather banal so I've gotten out of the habit. Of course, having started using them in a series I have to carry on with the practice in any and all sequels! I do like named sections, three or more in the course of a book. There's more to work with there when it comes time to create a title.
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  13. I love chapter titles. I did not finish the first Percy Jackson book, but I remember that Riordan’s titles made an impression on me because they were funny and added a lot to the irreverent character of the book. Actually I still remember some of them and I don’t even remember much else about the book.

    Chapters that are just numbered seem to have something...missing? Chapter titles are an opportunity for, like...meta-characterization of the story’s events. You can choose to be irreverent and sarcastic, or cryptic, or name chapters mainly based on the settings the chapters visit, or the new characters they introduce. They can highlight parallels or repeated motifs. You can use them to connect different parts of the book, sometimes in a funny way (like if chapter 5 is named Can Things Get Worse? and chapter 15 is named Things Can Get Worse).

    I think there is just something fundamentally boring about just numbers for chapters. It makes it feel like the book is broken into arbitrary chunks.
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  14. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    Chapter length can play a part in this, I think. I write short chapters, normally, like 1500 words. That can add up to an awful lot of names in the course of a normal novel.
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  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    My current WIP has 54 chapters, and while that might not be much for a book at 100k words, it's a lot of names to come up with in one go. I had originally planned on going with just numbers, like in my previous books, but when I started revising the earlier books, I added chapter names in them, so now I have to go through and do it with all the books.
    It's fun, but it'll take some time.

    Something occurred to me when I read this, which is very similar to what you write, and it's about the meta... story?

    Chapter titles can help enhance the mood/vibe/feel of the story.
    Irreverent and sarcastic titles are probably the prime example of this, but it can work for other things too.
    It doesn't take many words to make something sound ominous, "or does it..." and I'm thinking that can be used for great effect. It's not about adding to the story, but about getting the reader in the right mood.

    I'll have to go over my list of titles again now.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I've tried not using chapter titles but now I use them. Not for the reader, but for me. When I scan down a list of files (scenes, in Scrivener, but the principle is the same), it is singularly unhelpful to read 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4.

    For one thing, that implies a sequence and I sometimes move chapters around, which then requires I re-number everything. Sure it renumbers automatically in a generated ToC, but I'm talking here about file names.

    Naming is also a prod for me to think a bit about the point of the chapter. It might be I want the title to emphasize that, or it might be I want to obscure the point, or lyricize it, or something other. Point is, it makes me think about it. The ease of renaming a title, without disrupting sequencing, lets me not fret too much.

    When the book is done, usually close to the proofreading stage, I revisit the chapter titles with an editorial eye and make final adjustments.

    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  17. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

    I use them while writing the draft, to help myself keep track of what's where. I won't necessarily use them for the finished product. In draft, my chapter titles are sometimes a complete spoiler, but no matter, I'm the only one who sees them, and I know where this is going.

    I also put some sections in a folder of their own, if I have a lengthy bit that's a story in itself. Within the folder, the scenes might be broken down as chapter 1, chapter 2, etc., but again, that's not necessarily how it's going to look in the end. I will want to give it a uniform appearance eventually (all chapter titles or all chapter numbers, not a mix of both), but for drafting, what matters is that I can find it again.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  18. Alexander Knight

    Alexander Knight Scribe

    Personally, I like chapter titles. They give me a little bit of incentive to read the next chapter, a little clue of what I can expect, and are a way of adding to the flavor of the world.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  19. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    I always use them and regard them as very important.

    For me, the most important phrase in a chapter (on some pleasingly transcendent level) will become the chapter title. For example, my current WIP has chapters:

    To Share in Heaven or Rule in Hell

    A Secret World

    That Blend of Lust and Fear

    For me, these pose questions to the reader, but are probably better enjoyed when reading the book the second time. They are never directly relevant to the action but connections can be found upon reflection.

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