[Insert Chapter Title Here]

So it was suggested to me by my Twitter friend @kendrakilbourn that I write about chapter titles.

You asked Kendra, so I answered.

Chapter titles are an interesting thing. Some authors use them, some don’t. Some are mysterious and others completely give away what’s going to happen. Occasionally a chapter title will make you laugh out loud while others will make you tremble. Then you come across books that simply don’t have titles for their chapters, and that’s ok too.  

I think (like many other things in writing) whether or not to name your chapters depends on your book. The only real rule is to stay consistent. If you don’t name your first chapter, then don’t give a title to Chapter 12 even if you have the most amazing stupendous chapter title in the history of chapter titles.

Though if that does happen mid-way through your novel, you may want to consider naming the others as well.

I didn’t start naming my chapters until very recently, and there wasn’t some stunning revelation that made me change my mind.

With my first few novels, Chapter 1, 2, 3 and so on worked just fine. I didn’t feel that my stories were losing anything because I chose not to name the titles. When I re-wrote my last novel Reaper and turned it into first-person, however, I looked at the numbered chapters and thought I could do more.

To me, when writing in first person, the chapter titles were another way for my characters to express their voices. In Reaper’s case, I found that “Chapter 1—Awake,” sat better with me than just “Chapter 1.” In my current WIP, I don’t even have the chapters numbered (though that will probably change after I edit it). I begin with “It Doesn’t Get Any Weirder Than This” and go on from there. Even without sample paragraphs, you can probably tell that the voices in my examples are entirely different.

That’s the power of chapter titles.

There’s a caveat, though. Although naming your chapters may summon some intrigue, a bad chapter title will do the opposite. Clichéd chapter titles are just as bad as clichéd sentences. And unless your protagonist is ridiculously spontaneous, if your chapter is named “Fish Slap” there better be a good reason for it.

If your protagonist IS ridiculously spontaneous however, and you write a chapter about a typical school day, by all means, name it “Fish Slap” if you think it’ll add to your story.

Spontaneity aside, it’s entirely up to you whether or not to name your chapters. There’s no right or wrong decision, nor is there a right or wrong time start doing it.

Like most things of the writing world, it’s instinct that determines what’s right for your book.

So what do you think? How do chapter titles change your reading or writing experience? 


Joseph said...

I liked it =] I also think that if you choose a title name before you start to write the chapter it can kind of predetermine what it is going to be about, sometimes I enjoy chapter titles because they do give that edge to a book, and then sometimes I like it when it is very formalist and just 1,2,3 etc. I've used both while writing, and can say that they do in fact somewhat change the experience xD

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

Very true! I've found I'm more able to name chapter before I write if I have a good idea of where I'm going. If not, looking back at the chapter helps me pull out a name.

I think the change is subtle, but how you name or number your chapter titles changes the style of your writing. It allll depends. :)

Joseph said...

Yeah, for some it's helpful and to other people it's a constraint to have to work inside that title =]

It all depends on the person, nothing is right and nothing is wrong, except if they're mixing and matching between numbers and titles...it does look weird...and I doubt that people would do this, however I did once read a book that numbered the even chapters and worded the odd chapter, I think they represented different P.O.V :)

Anonymous said...

Great post! :)
I was going to say that I don't do chapter names at all, but I do to some extent. One story doesn't have chapter numbers, just names (but it is not one that I am working on currently). Another doesn't have actual names, but I'm playing with the idea of naming each chapter a date and a weekday because that relates to the nature of the story. A third one of mine only has Roman numbers for chapters, and I don't think it will ever get anything else. - So it seems that for me it really depends on the story.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

To Joseph:

I agree that nothing's really right or wrong with the exception of mixing the two...even if it is different P.O.V's, I'm not entirely sure how well that'd work...I suppose I'd have to see it myself. Maybe it could be pulled off. I wouldn't suggest it, though.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

To howalt:

First off, thank you! I always love compliments and comments. :)

Second, thank you for confirming my post. I absolutely agree that many things in writing depend on the book you're writing (I'll probably write more on this later).

When in doubt, do what feels right for the novel.

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