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.