Chapter Titles

The last post was rather intense so I thought something lighter was in order.

A few  years ago I read a book, or rather, started to, where each chapter had a title. I’m sure you’ve seen these. ‘In Which Our Intrepid Hero Finds His Long Lost Daughter’. At first I was irritated. By chapter 3 I was annoyed. By chapter 4 I gave up. Instead of reading the book I just read the chapter titles and got the story.

Some people do this writing device well. I’ve seen some chapter titles that were excellent teasers. One or two words that raised questions so that you had to read the chapter to get the answers. I’ve seen some books where the chapter titles didn’t actually have anything to do with the chapter, but instead offered little ‘aside’ clues to the story or to a particular character.

Then there are the chapter titles that are quotes from poems, songs, movies, or other books. I like those because they are usually quotes I haven’t heard before and occasionally lead me into reading a new book. But when the pace is whipping along in the book and I’m anxious to find out what happens next, they can slow me down. Mainly because I have a hard time skipping them and going back later. So I’ll be hanging from the cliff of the previous chapter and have to hang on a few seconds longer in order to read the quote.

Finally, there are other authors that simply number the chapter. No messing around, just number and move on. That process reminds me of dialog tags. You know how ‘he said’ disappears into the dialog and doesn’t take the reader out of the story? That’s what chapter numbering does for me. The numbers disappear into the story itself.

Personally I number, rather than name, chapters. The biggest reason? It’s hard enough to come up with one title, let alone thirty.

What do you think about chapter headings? Do they annoy you as a reader, or do you like them? As a writer, do you use them? I’m curious.

8 thoughts on “Chapter Titles

  1. Of course, some authors like Terry Pratchett, don’t use chapters at all. I found this odd at first, but once I started reading I totally forgot they weren’t there. Mostly, I use chapters as places to stop reading — as a place to pause. I don’t believe this is a good practice for an author who wants the reader to keep turning pages. In fact, I think chapter titles and quotes at the beginning of chapters are counter productive in that sense, too.

    • I like the idea of chapters as a chance to take a breath (or take a potty break, or refresh the tea). I guess I don’t like them when they intrude too much into my story world.

  2. I am fine with numbers but usually I do like a little hint on what will happen in the next chapter. If the book is good enough for me to read it having a title with a hint doesnt make me stop reading. Quotes I might just read over them and forget about it if it doesnt have much to do with the story itself.
    As a writer, I started out using titles until we talked about and since then I havent done any chapters anymore, just like dividers as I call them, to go on to to another scene. But I also dont write whole books… 😉

  3. You know, your comment made me wonder if chapter titles might actually be more common in different genres. For some reason I’m thinking they might show up in romances.

  4. I usually ignore chapter titles if I think they’re pointless or I don’t like what they say — probably because I read them all before I begin the book — unless there are scores of them, in which case I wonder if the writer was on something. I haven’t read one yet where they told the whole story. That would piss me off.

    When writing, I just number, except for the book I really want to write. When I got the idea for it so long ago, I wanted it to be poetic reading. Evocative chapter titles felt important somehow, so I went home and wrote about eleven of them. If I ever get it finished, I wonder what readers might think of them. I hope I turn into a finisher so I can find out.

  5. Usually I see chapter titles in older literature or children’s books. I tend to ignore them unless they’re really clever, so they don’t bother me and they sometimes delight me. I’ve never used them in my own writing, but now I’m wondering if giving a title to a chapter would help me see exactly how it fits in with the whole story. Even if I didn’t use the title in the end, it might be a useful tool for me as I go.

    • I wonder if you could use chapter titles as a shortcut to writing a synopsis? I never thought of using them as a tool and then not using them in the final version. What a great idea.

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