Forum Friday: Do you use chapter titles?

I never paid much attention to the way chapters were marked in the books I read…

…until I started writing one.

When I sat down with the question of using chapter titles or not, I started looking: what books use them? What books don’t? What do they contain? What do they accomplish? What do they have potential to accomplish? (Check out this thread I started on Nanowrimo to see other writer responses. Some have listed really creative ideas for them!)

Some chapters use numbers. Some name events or developments contained therein. One person on the forum suggested adding another dimension of meaning and complexity to your novel by using a relevant theme for chapter titles: names of gods, works of art, the elements, the seven circles of hell, etc.

What are your thoughts: do you use chapter titles? Why or why not? Perhaps more importantly: how?

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23 thoughts on “Forum Friday: Do you use chapter titles?

  1. I do use chapter titles when I write, and how I used them changes depending on the type of novel I’m writing. When I wrote a psychological thriller, often the chapter titles were vague remarks about what was going to happen in that chapter (without revealing too much), or would at least explain where they were. When I’ve written more humorous stories the chapter titles are often silly, and just an excuse for me to squeeze in more jokes. Sometimes my chapter names are themed as well. It just depends how I feel I suppose.
    I think only once have I used just numbers for the chapters, and that was because I had no clue what I was writing about. πŸ˜›

    • Yes, I suppose each book is its own special case and the chapter titles follow suit…

      Haha I like what you say about numbers, too. I might try that the next time I don’t know where the story’s going!

  2. Generally, no, but with one of the novels I’m in the middle of writing, I’m changing my mind. I think it’s primarily because the “chapters” are much longer than your usual chapter — 5,000 – 7,000 words. And each “chapter” represents a very distinct piece of the narrator’s life, so they lend themselves to a title — Intro, Father, Maddy, Korea, Marriage, Family, Return, The End.

    • Good call. Some of the books I’ve read since I’ve started looking have fewer but longer chapters– sometimes numbered, sometimes titled. One has to do what feels write to the book, I think! I like your eight distinct parts.

  3. Ugh, I never name chapters. It took me FOREVER to figure out a title for my book, and now I’ve changed it like 3 time anyway. I can’t imagine taking the time to decide on chapter titles. I am just not good at titles. Also, for me, they don’t add anything to a book when it does have them.

    • They certainly can be frustrating. And you make a good point– like I said, I didn’t give much consideration to them before I had the opportunity to write (or not write) them myself. They’re a finishing touch, I suppose– but one that isn’t absolutely necessary.

  4. I’d love to use really interesting / original chapter titles but so far have only ever used 1, 2, 3 etc. I put too much pressure on trying to think of an awesome title that I don’t let the ideas just come to me! haha, even naming chapters is hard work when you’re a writer… or trying to be (like me)

    • In fairness, I have found myself changing chapter titles a lot. Some are better than others from the beginning; the weaker ones change with each revision πŸ˜‰

      On this draft, as I go through the manuscript, I’m compiling a list of the chapter titles (like a table of contents). I think they will be easier to work on as a finishing touch. (Or at least, I hope they will be! Ha.)

  5. I use them when I write as a way of navigating through what I’ve written where since I’ve got access to a dropdown menu with all the documents in one place. Not all that certain about using them for a final version though, first because I never pay attention to chapter title when I read book, secondly, which is also the reason for the first, I often find that they give too much away more often then not. : )

    • Valid points. What are your thoughts on using chapter titles as points of intrigue? Even if the reader brushes by them in the table of contents, for example, maybe they’re turning the pages and they say, “I’ll stop after this chapter”– then when they turn to the new chapter they see the title and then BAM! “AHHH, I have to keep reading to find out what the title means!”

      All theoretical, of course πŸ˜‰

  6. I had chapter titles in my book for a while, but the general consensus amongst my readership was that A) they didn’t really care about titles, and B) the titles sort of gave away the plot of the upcoming chapter. So I just nixed the titles altogether and went with “1, 2, 3” etc. I think it works really well, although I will probably try chapter titles in a future project — perhaps if I ever get around to writing that fantasy story I’ve been itching to try out for years. πŸ˜€

    • Oh no! That’s one thing to be wary of– titles “giving away” a chapter. I suppose one must find a balance between intrigue and spelling out the action!

      I’m curious, now…I may have to try out numbers myself just to see how they fit. I hope you do get around to that fantasy story– even if you don’t end up using chapter titles πŸ˜‰

  7. I love those old chapter titles ‘…in which our hero formulates a plan; the parson is reminded that he,too, is human, and a stranger arrives on the stagecoach from London.’
    Just chapter numbers for my novels to date but, with my present project, I think I need to put a note of date and location to keep the reader up to speed.

    • Date and location are intriguing (and in some cases, I suppose, necessary) way to separate segments. And I agree– I absolutely love those classic titles that begin “in which”! I have half a mind to write something with those just because I like them so much.

  8. I love titles so much, some times I just make some up without even bothering to write the chapter. In fact, I think I might start titling my blog comments. I’ll call this one, “Chapter Titles I Have Loved”.

    • A good problem to have, I think, Tony– see Aubrey’s comment above about struggling with titles!

      Interestingly, I fall in the middle: sometimes I struggle with names, and sometimes the name comes to be first and the rest falls into place. How bizarre!

  9. I absolutely love using chapter titles. They had a whole extra spot to throw in some interesting and amusing tie-ins. Most of the titles I did for my first book play on puns or tie up what happens in the course of that chapter in just a few words.

    I can see why people wouldn’t use them, and I’m sure there would be cases where I wouldn’t. But I am working on this one Young Adult novel that each of my chapters are essentially ___ Me, usually just one or two words in the blank and they are just meant to be amusing while providing an overall theme with the chapter names.

    I think of chapter titles the exact same way as book titles though. Sometimes they can be difficult to figure out, and not all of mine are awesome but as long as some of them are awesome, I’m happy.

    My first book starts the first chapter as ‘A Charming Beginning’ and the last chapter is titled ‘A Charming Ending’. Just as a method of tie-in. Another group in there was three chapters in a row ‘Seeing Blue’, ‘Seeing Red’, ‘Seeing Double’.

    Really it just comes down to whether or not you can invent a use for those titles. Do they sum the chapter up? Do they provide some amusing extra thought?

    I actually end up going one step further and breaking my books into two or three ‘acts’ kind of like a play. And each act has a little random quote pertaining to the story. For my first novel there are two acts and because the story focuses on Red Riding Hood I took the ‘What big…blah blah you have’ for the first act name and then ‘the better to blah blah’ for the second act.

    The point is to have fun with the stuff. The more fun you are having making the book, in all aspects. The more fun people will have reading it.

    • Jordan, I’m so glad you weighed in on this– you make many excellent points. I’ve heard others (see above) say that they use running themes for chapter titles, but I like the idea of having symmetry like you do with “Charming” or finding some other way to group common titles or play them off one another (though not necessarily all of them). I think you’re right– if the author has fun with it, it is far more likely that the reader will, too!

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