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.