I have never given any thought to my chapter headings. Consequently, I have gone about as basic as you can go – Chapter 1, not even Chapter One. And I wonder if I should change that?

I have a client who has always named each of his chapters. Actually he puts a number first and then a title below it. We’ve had to be diligent with our editing to ensure the title doesn’t give away what’s to come. A Marriage – ah, well, she said yes then, or, The Mourners Wore Black – oh, so he didn’t make it… Whatever you do, don’t ruin the surprise!

I’ve never used titles before, but never say never. I am considering it and I had a look at a couple of books on my shelves and note that in Money, Martin Amis barely has chapters, and when he does they are simply marked with a diamond shape. In The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood has short italicised titles. It seems there are many variations.

I believe numbers are the simplest thing to do and they don’t interrupt the reading experience at all. However, in the table of contents that we have to include in our eBooks the chapters, listed by number, means absolutely nothing to anyone wishing to jump, via hyperlink, to a specific place in the book. That is something to consider.

Of course if you go with titles you also have decisions to make. You might want to use one to indicate that you’ve changed settings, such as – Back at the Stables. This is certainly a help as it means you need no further explanation.

Or you could set the tone or mood of the next chapter by using the start of a joke for the title, should that work for your book. Titles can also increase the mystery by adding to the foreshadowing which can make readers wonder what is to come and read on.

Titles can also add clarity and I would think they are essential in novels that jump around in time, or are written from the point of view of different characters.

I have to say I am bad at actually reading the titles – or remembering them as I read on – and often have to flick back to find out if I’ve missed something, so don’t assume your reader is going to take any notice of how you’ve started your heading. Therefore, if you’ve put in something clever to add to the story in some way (which is what I fancy doing, if I can only think of something clever!) find a way of repeating it during the chapter too. Especially if it’s a crucial clue.

I think whatever you choose you need to be consistent. I was a good way into the preparation of a client’s book once before I realised several of the chapters were 1, 2, 3 while others were one, two, three. And we had two Chapter Twenty-Twos.

It’s easily done.


How about you? If you write what type of chapter headings do you prefer? And when you read what lead in do you like to each chapter? I’d love to hear your views.

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4 Responses to Chapters: Numbers or Names? #MondayBlogs #amwriting
  1. I love chapter titles and often use them. Not in every book, but some – they’re in my WIP. Each chapter has its number, then the name of the character whose POV it’s from, then a chapter name. I think it gives another little aspect to the whole thing, and I spend a while thinking of the right one. Sometimes it may just be ‘Four Months Later’, but other times I like to use something a little cryptic that applies to more than one thing in the chapter. Or they might be related to each other; for instance, I have one called ‘Calm’ and the next is ‘Storm’.

    I started to use them when I noticed how much I liked episode titles in series I watched – wondering what it was going to be about!

    • Yes, this is interesting. When I was reading up on the use of them they are often used to set the scene of what’s coming, to whet the appetite. I think a lot of thought has to go into them to get them right so they work how you want them to but I like the thought of the slightly cryptic ones. And they are very useful for setting time and place, and possibly the weather, I think.

  2. I’m never going to be a fan of chapter titles. For a start they make me think of children’s books. And as a writer, the thought of having to come up with a title for every chapter…. It’s bad enough thinking of the book’s title!
    It also reminds me of the current obsession of programme makers and the “coming up syndrome”. If we’re not careful we’ll be heading down the route of “and in this next chapter, Esme will pay a visit to the murder location and discover something shocking…” or worse, a recap of the last chapter as well! As you can probably tell, the increasingly ubiquitous “Next time…” (when you’ve hardly had time to digest what you’ve just watched) is a bit of a bugbear of mine. I always think of the poor writer who has put heart and soul into crafting a cliffhanger at the end of the storyline, only to have the dramatic tension totally undermined by showing a clip from the next episode. I’m sure one of the reasons Line of Duty is so successful (notwithstanding a brilliant plot) is that it had viewers on the edge of their seats and leaves them there. No let off! You have to wait.
    Anyway, going back to books… if there are chapter titles I never read them. If it’s a good story I’m propelled on to find out what happens next and just keep reading!

    • An excellent point of view, Wendy. I get your point about having to come up with the titles in the first place – I started having a think about possible titles with with my current WIP and didn’t get very far. I don’t think I read them either. But I can see their use so I’m not saying never and I shall certainly be giving it more thought.

      I do agree with you on those… Next time, clips we get… grrr. But then I like the title of the Friends episodes… The One with the… so, as with most things I appear to be securely fixed to the top of the fence 😀 😀


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