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Do You Title Your Chapters or Just Number Them?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Queengilda, Oct 23, 2011.

  1. Queengilda

    Queengilda Dreamer

    I'm wondering whether you title your chapters or just number them. Some writers also include quotes from either other writers, usually non-copyrighted authors, or quotes from earlier chapters as a teaser at the head of a chapter. I title my chapters, but I was thinking for my new work, I might choose quotes from earlier writers as teasers.

    I'd be interested in what other writers do.
  2. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

    I've not decided yet. I like the idea of naming them, but I think it would get tricky after a while. For my main story, I might name them for the POV characters, since there are a few.
  3. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

    I have a hard enough time coming up with titles for the story. Chapter titles are totally not gonna happen. I don't think anyone bothers reading them anyway.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I'm still trying to decide. I think in a lengthy work the chapter headers become cluttered and confusing. You have to remember that if you include them, they may well be just about the first thing your reader sees if they go page by page through the Table of Contents. If your reader doesn't yet know what to expect, and if there are a lot of chapters, you're only making them confused, you're not piquing their interest. But if there's only a few chapters (20 or less) and they're well done, you might use them to build interest.

    As an aside I would add, I think a big part of it is, how much is actually happening in a chapter? If most your chapters are short or linear, then your headings might have to be hurtfully vague to avoid giving things away. I can think several times where the thrust of a chapter was spoiled by the chapter headings, including one book which I felt did so repeatedly.

    I'm brainstorming three writing projects. In one most of the chapters are going to be short and highly vivid scenes, and I think chapter headings would spoil them. In another, where there are only twelve chapters, I've put together chapter headings which I hope are dramatic and quotable. In the third, in a fantasy world which should be more character driven than the other two, I'm still debating how long and complex the chapters need to be.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011
  5. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

    I love titling my chapters, but I know that most readers won't even look at them.

    I really don't like it when chapter titles give away what's going to happen next, though.
  6. mythique890

    mythique890 Sage

    I didn't in my last project because it was easier. My friend suggested finding mythological/historical quotes to go along with them, though, and I've thought about that. Not as names, just as little blurbs at the beginnings of each chapter.
  7. I'm ambivalent about what to do in my novel. Right now there's a prologue, 32 chapters, and epilogue. They are named "Prologue", "Chapter 1", ..., "Chapter 32", and "Epilogue."

    I've considered naming the chapters, and I might do that if I feel up to it, but I don't know if it's necessary. However, each chapter is from the POV of a single character, a la A Song of Ice and Fire. One thing that's always annoyed me about those books, much as I love them, is that the chapters aren't numbered, so referring to chapters when talking to friends who are reading the books is hard.

    I just read "Rule 34" by Charles Stross, and the chapters are all named "[Character]: [Subtitle]", e.g. "ANWAR: TOYMAKER". They're not numbered, though. So here's what I'm considering for my chapters (I won't even consider not numbering the chapters):

    Just a number: "Chapter 1", "Chapter 15", "Epilogue" - A little plain.

    Number plus title: "Chapter 1: Headaches" - I like chapter titles but it's a fair amount of work.

    Number plus POV character: "Chapter 1: Amira" - This helps ease a reader into the chapter's POV. One thing that was always a little jarring about the Wheel of Time is that though each chapter is numbered and titled, you don't know who the POV character is until you've read a paragraph or two, which means you're spending those first few sentences figuring out who you're reading. I really like that George R. R. Martin puts the name of each POV character as the title of the chapter. (I just wish he numbered them, too.) I'm currently leaning most toward this system.

    Number plus POV character plus title: "Chapter 1: Amira - Headaches", or perhaps something like this:

    Chapter 1: Headaches

    That's a bit excessive, and it still means I have to come up with a title for every chapter. Since I'm expecting this to be a trilogy, that means I'm stuck coming up with chapter names for two more books.
  8. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

    Just had to mention this, sorry. Benjamin, that quote about the Eddard chapters had me rolling around laughing. I'm just recovering now. So true.
    Benjamin Clayborne likes this.
  9. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

    @Benjamin: I guess numbering is convenient, but I like that the name alone looks really clean and simple.
  10. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    My reaction was similar to Elder's. Epic quote :p

    Firstly, I can't be bothered with chapter titles because choosing them takes me longer than writing the actual chapter. Secondly, I'm not a big fan of them anyway - they tend to be either overly-descriptive, totally dull or embarrassingly pretentious. I make an exception for the Harry Potter books though; in general, the chapter titles are short but mysterious enough to make you want to read further.

    Quotes at the beginning of each chapter should be handled with care, IMO. If they're relevant and genuinely add to the depth of the book, fine. Anything else is just showing off.
  11. Dragonie

    Dragonie Scribe

    I just number them. I have enough of a hard time figuring out a title for my books, though, so I don't want to have to think of chapter titles as well!
  12. Queengilda

    Queengilda Dreamer

    Thanks for all the input here. I see many of you are very decided on what you are doing or will be doing on your next stories. Digital_Fey, I couldn't agree more, that quotes at the beginnings of each chapter which aren't relevant and don't genuinely add to the depth of the book are just showing off. I just hate it if an author starts quoting someone from antiquity who I've never heard of at the beginning of each chapter, and after reading the chapter, I just can't figure out why the quote was included. Worst still is if the quote is in Latin or some language that I can't understand.
  13. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    I think of all the books I have written I only wrote one without chapter titles.

    At most I forshadow.

    The last chapter title I named:
    the final cost (It is the final fight scene)

    They don't have to be earth shattering or unique,

    "Chapter one, the beginning"

    Chapter titles:
    the new life, returning home, first flight, fleeing, the academy

    I have used all of the above, I think they are in three different books so they aren't all linked.
  14. The Grey Sage

    The Grey Sage Troubadour

    I personally use titles, I don't usually find it difficult to name chapters, characters or stories. I will number them too like:
    Chapter Six
    The Fallen Hero
  15. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

    I use numbers (for ease of reference for myself as much as anything else) and title them with dialogue taken from the chapter. Mostly this is because I thought it would be fun to have chapters titled things like "'I'm Back.' Is That All You Have to Say?", or my personal favourite "Alright Let's Go! Everybody Let Your Fighting Spirit Blaze!!"
  16. Gryffin

    Gryffin Scribe

    I'm not sure yet. I think that titling them makes them unique and is a neat idea, but I have always wondered how much readers care about them. I think a number can sometimes be boring but it also is simple and doesn't give too much away. I have mixed feelings.
  17. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    I title chapters to keep track of things while I'm writing. It's easier for me to remember them that way. If/when I publish, I'll most likely switch them to numbers. Most of the books I read go by number, and I never felt like something was missing because of it. A few authors do titles well, but most offer boring chapter titles. They might as well do numbers instead. (Kristen Britain, I'm looking at you!) It's worse when they give away who the MC meets, where the MC goes, or what twist occurs in that chapter. I gloss over chapter titles and quotes in most novels. They're rarely worth it.

    I'd rather not risk doing that. Most of my stories are in the first person pov anyway. I feel chapter titles make less sense in that pov.

    The only time it's useful is when the book is very long and there's an index of the chapters. It's easier to find where you're at, which is helpful in a big book like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
  18. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    I always title chapters - I love looking at the table of context and seeing the flow of the story through the titles.
  19. CicadaGrrl

    CicadaGrrl Troubadour

    I grew up titling short chapters as in, Chapter 1: A Heart of Flames. I used the kernel of truth in the chapter I want to stay focused on. They didn't give anything away, but were the sort of often pithy, slides of association that by the time the reader finished the chapter, they knew why I'd named it that way. The only problem was that every now and then I would run into a chapter that didn't give me that kernel at the start, or end. I actually had one working title that was, for years, "I HATE this ****ing chapter!" Which I did. It was an exposition bomb of the kind I despise but hadn't learned to leave out and still work the pertinent info. Then I got to a book that didn't tell me chapter names almost at all. So I just went back and made everything just numbered. I also condensed multiple scenes into longer chapters with breaks ( * * * *) with.

    As for pov switches, I can have up to four characters in the air, but I never put the name in a title-like way. I make a point of putting the name up front in the first paragraph, but after that I assume if I can write for shit (gulp?) and the reader isn't a total moron, the pov will be obvious due to the writing.
  20. CicadaGrrl

    CicadaGrrl Troubadour

    Wow. The site left my shit but edited out my ****. Weird.

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