Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, September 27, 2010

Can I Get a Ruling: How Do You Feel About Chapter Titles?

Oh, to title a chapter or just go ahead and call it Chapter 72. One of the perennial questions facing any writer.

Do you notice chapter titles when you're reading? Do you like them? Dislike them? Not even realize they're there?

Where do you stand?

If you're reading in an RSS reader or via e-mail, please click through for the poll:







163 comments:

ajkulig said...

I will admit, I love chapter titles. I always title chapters in my head, but always leave them out in my actual MS. I think some agents might dislike them, but don't think witty chapter titles are going to earn me any points even if they do like them.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I like titles that serve some kind of function (like Martin listing who the chapter is about) or creates some kind of metaphor for the chapter. I especially like chapters that form a metaphor/riddle for the entire story when taken together. Mostly, though, I find chapter titles used with little effect. I have yet to write anything with chapter titles. I tried once, but only made it for the first five chapters.

Jamie said...

There are some authors who use chapter titles well. Steven Brust, particularly, is good at distancing the title from the action in it... he takes mundane things--food, chores etc--and uses those rather than "Vlad's Visit with the Undead" or something like that.

Normally, though, I can't stand chapter titles. They are too revealing. I want THE STORY to tell me what happens, not the chapter title. Stick with numbers :)

Natalie Whipple said...

I don't mind them, especially when they're funny. Sometimes they'll even get me curious to read the next chapter to find out why they named it that.

I don't think they're necessary though. Just fun.

A.B. Fenner said...

It's interesting, I found chapter titles more entertaining to write than I usually find them to read. I had a ball coming up with chapter titles for my WIP, but I skim them and move on when I'm reading.

So ... are chapter titles simply authorly self-indulgence?

Darin said...

I think they are an additional way to express your creativity and are best when they convey a theme of the chapter, especially in a cryptic manner. I don't think the Harry Potter novels would have been the same without them.

fairyhedgehog said...

They're used to great effect in Married with Zombies where they're a mashup between self-help marriage guidance and zombie slaying.

Perle said...

A well-written book, has me wanting to get on with the story - chapter titles just get in the way.

Daisy said...

I like them, done well, but I don't miss them when they're not there. I think it can be a nice bonus source of humor for the author who wants to use them.

Shiloh Walker said...

Eh, I don't like them personally. My 11 yr old, though, has become a writing monster and she loves them.

O.o

Stephanie Garber said...

I like chapter titles a lot.

I think it's fun to look forward to reading a chapter with an interesting title, it sort of gives me a goal for my reading, and I like having some sort of indication of what I am getting into when I start a new chapter.

I don't mind books without them, but I like them if they are there.

Ian said...

In most of my projects, I haven't felt they were necessary. On the two that I really feel needed them, I'm willing to fight to keep them intact.

Word verification (seriously!): sobsob

Danielle La Paglia said...

I actually find them distracting because I try to see how they fit in to the chapter I'm about to read rather than just enjoying it. So I usually ignore them instead.

Sarah said...

The thing about chapter titles is: If I think I might know where the next chapter is taking the story and I don't like it, I will put down the book. Where as if the chapter had no title I may have led me to continue reading. A good title can make the reader read one more chapter but an obvious title in a difficult part of the book can lead to a book thrown aside and sometimes permanently neglected.

Julie Kingsley said...

Funny, I was just about to write a chapter title for my middle grade adventure for boys. In my humble opinion, boys like to have a heads-up on what's going on. It's a reading carrot, a little nugget of fun that might make them keep reading. When I taught fourth grade, many of those little buggers would rather put the book down and do something else than read. As writers (and teachers) we need to entice kids as much as possible. Just don't make the title boring. A boring title is useless.

Titles that fourth grade boys would like:

Booger Bombs
Underwear Acid
Dog Poo Shoes

You get the picture!

Becky Levine said...

My exceptions for skipping chapter titles are those written by A.A.Milne and Rick Riordan.

sheribomb said...

I agree with A.B. Fenner, I love titling chapters, but don't always notice them while reading.

Maybe us writers just want the privilege of titling something? If (when?) a book of mine gets published, I'm pretty sure they'll change the title. But maybe they'll let me keep the chapter titles. Or at least a few of them... ;)

Annalee said...

As with most things in writing, it depends on the execution.

I loved them in a lot of my favorite children's/YA books, but it seems to me that they're a lot less common in fiction for adults.

I usually don't bother with them when writing, because I have enough trouble coming up with even one title. But I'm working on a steampunk YA right now, so in the interest of making it feel more like a period novel, I might give them a try and see if I can make them work.

Jen J. Danna said...

I really like chapter titles and I admit that my writing partner and I use them regularly. We usually use them in an overarching theme to really tie the book together and we spend considerable time selecting them. But I enjoy them in others' books, especially when the writer is particularly clever with them or has a sharp sense of humour about his selections.

Claudie A. said...

I like chapter titles when they don't reveal where the story is going. Sometimes there are big clues within the title, though, and I feel kind of cheated.

As a writer, though, I hate hate hate them. Mostly because I can never come up with something satisfying. ;)

Liesl said...

I don't really care for chapter titles in adult fiction, but I actually think for younger readers a chapter title can be a great way to focus the reader and let them know what to expect. Each chapter is it's own story and the chapter title is it's own little hook.

Eric J. Krause said...

I am in favor of simply leaving chapter titles blank and only having the number. I will admit, however, that occasionally an author does chapter titles right, and this adds to the story. If the author uses the title of the chapter right, it's fine. Too often, though, there really is no purpose. So my basic feeling is that if done well, great, but if not, just leave them blank.

Rachel said...

They don't bother me, but I'm not particularly fond of them either. Recently I read a romance in which they irritated me, they were like 'in which the hero discovers a secret about the heroine' or something. That's not funny, that's chidish...

Wordy Bird said...

It depends. If it's something like E.M.Forster's 'The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View. Italians Drive Them,' (from A Room With a View) and therefore, hilarious and pithy, I love them. If not, why bother?

I think kids' books are the exception, and chapter titles often work well and serve a very good purpose, helping orient a young reader in the story.

John said...

Done well, titles give each chapter their own identity. Numbered chapters make me think of an assembly line. My favorite use of chapter titles is Cold Mountain. Chapters aren't designated by number, just by a simple and elegant turn of phrase. I also like a lot of John Irving's chapter titles, for their quirkiness. I wish more books would take this approach.

Meagan Spooner said...

I wish there was an option for "It depends on the type of story and the way it's being told."

For the most part, I'm not a fan of chapter titles, but in certain books they work really well. (Quirky books with chapters like "In which our hero discovers he's a fish" for example.)

It's a stylistic choice... and I think as long as it really is a thoughtful CHOICE, and not just something the author does for the hell of it, it's fine.

Project Savior said...

Asimov had a great way to use titles that I haven't seen many others use.
He put titles on the big "Acts" of the book, maybe 10 or 20 but just numbered the other ones.
It let you know when you ran across a chapter with a title you were in for a major change and the numbers just broke up the scenes.

Steppe said...

I like numbers in fancy script above a black line. If there are little mini-titles I start to wonder if the writer is really writer. Maybe chapter titles are a pseudo synopsis for the disorganized.

J. T. Shea said...

I love chapter titles, both as reader and writer. They are extra work for the writer, but not the reader.

Each of the three books of my series has about sixty short chapters, averaging about 1,200 words each, all named and numbered and listed in several contents pages. My chapter titles comment, sometimes ironically, on what happens in each chapter, and the contents pages have the extra benefit of giving me a good guide to where I put things. Oddly, I found it easier to come up with 180 or so chapters titles than three titles for the three books!

But I have no Booger Bombs, Underwear Acid or Dog Poo Shoes! Yet...

greatreader said...

I can't remember the last adult book I read that included chapter titles. I enjoy them quite a bit in YA books, though.

traceybaptiste said...

I'm of two minds about chapter titles. I think they're very useful especially when dealing with two POVs. They can help the reader to distinguish between one character and another, but unless they really add something to the story, I tend to find them distracting.

It's interesting though that my most recent work does have chapter titles because my agent thought they might help for the middle grade audience. But one of my beta readers felt they gave too much away.

So all of that to say... I don't know. I can take them or leave them. But mostly, I prefer to leave them.

Julia King said...

I am absolutely for Chapter Titles. I agree with Natalie Whipple that the titles perk your interest in reading the next chapter. Some books really don't need them though. I think that it totally depends on the vibe of the book. For instance, Kiersten White's book, "Paranormalcy", is completely amazing with the chapter titles. It makes the book more playful and fun. Many of the older classic books that I have read lack the chapter titles. It may just be a new thing to incorporate titles into the chapters. At any rate, I like them. I am using chapter titles in the novel that I am writing just because I feel like they are needed to give a little glimpse into the coming chapter.

traceybaptiste said...

I'm of two minds about chapter titles. I think they're very useful especially when dealing with two POVs. They can help the reader to distinguish between one character and another, but unless they really add something to the story, I tend to find them distracting.

It's interesting though that my most recent work does have chapter titles because my agent thought they might help for the middle grade audience. But one of my beta readers felt they gave too much away.

So all of that to say... I don't know. I can take them or leave them. But mostly, I prefer to leave them.

Ted Cross said...

It depends. If they are something other than a number, I like what some authors do, giving the chapter title as the name of the POV character. That's what I did with my first. My second book needs to rely more on location, date and time, so I am using that for chapter titles.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I'm a sucker for a good title.

Bonnie said...

Julie Kingsley: Dog Poo Shoes?! Hilarious!! Where can I buy my 4th grader your book?!

How can you go wrong with a chapter title called "The Cannibal Tree" (from a Christopher Moore book)? I like chapter titles if they add another layer to the chapter's meaning.

swampfox said...

Thought I'd be in the minority, but I was pleased to see most people like chapter titles. (At least so far.)
I like to read the Table of Contents before I read the book. It's kind of like a preview, in a way, of the story you're about to read.

Amy B. said...

Always depends on the book. I will never forget, however, the chapter titled "The Kiss" in Louis Sachar's Sixth Grade Secrets. Juxtaposed with the chapter itself, it was utter brilliance. To this day, it still makes me cackle.

Elie said...

Inventing chapter titles is one of my greatest ways to prevaricate.
Closely followed by important research into character names and their meanings.

Word verification: ament - almost lament, but not quite.

Bobbi said...

I don't really notice them. My husband told me while reading my WIP that he likes chapter titles, for him they set the tone. So now I try to keep that in mind while I'm trying to come up with titles.

Scott said...

With my personal writing, I normally didn't (yes, past tense) do chapter titles. I changed things up by doing them on the last project and . . . LOVE 'EM! Why? Well, the title says something about the chapter and, when I print out the ToC I basically have an outline of my story. Pretty nifty . . . if I do say so myself.

Triciaa said...

Depends on the book. If it's a complex book and chapter titles keep me from feeling confused or lost - it's very good they are there.

If it's a simple linear plot with one, maybe two, pov's, then they probably aren't necessary.

I don't mind them when they are there, and sometimes - again, with a simpler book - they add a certain sine qua non that gives a touch of panache to what might otherwise have been an ordinary story.

So I'm back to: It depends on the book.

Porter Anderson said...

I'm glad you asked this, Nathan, because I realize now that I'd assumed chapter titles had gone the way of printers' indicia (and printers, period). Nowadays, if we get any such thing as chapter titles, it's usually "data lines," the kind of thing that types out graphically on a film screen:
NEW YORK ... 3:02 A.M. TUESDAY ... THIRTY ALIEN SHIPS IN CONTACT

I loved the old style titles that ran along the lines of "Chapter the Third, in Which Mildred and Hortense Find Themselves Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and Learn That all Little Boys Aren't Made of Snakes and Snails, and Take That, Julie Kingsley."

While not looking to inflict such retrograde palaver on the world, I may consider using chapter titles, thanks to this poll. It seems to me they could help define the arc of action, as long as they're somehow integrated into the voice and concept of the work in question.

And isn't the work always in question?
-Porter

Myrna Foster said...

If they add to the book, I love chapter titles. Rick Riordan's chapter titles in the Percy Jackson series always made me smile, but Chapter 6: I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom made me laugh out loud.

Mismikado said...

In most cases, I just pass right over chapter titles and therefore prefer them to just be numbered. However when the chapter titles follow a theme like in Scott Westerfeld's The Last Days, then I really look forward to them because it's almost like a game :)

J. R. McLemore said...

I've noticed while reading several different Stephen King novels that he has used different chapter formats in different novels. Sometimes a succint title, sometimes just a number, and at another time he might have a couple of sentences that address plot points covered in the chapter. I like the latter. It gives me a peek at what's to come and tends to make it harder to stop reading.

I'd like to put this to use in my own MS, but I'm not sure how well an agent/editor might receive it. After all, we're talking about Stephen King here. He has a lot more say than a debut novelist, I think. Also, I'm not that clever. :(

Roni Loren said...

I like them only if they are funny. Serious ones don't work for me.

Seth said...

For me, I think it really depends on genre. As others have commented, chapter titles can sometimes give too much away, particularly in a tightly-crafted suspense/thriller. On the other hand, sometimes they add great flavor. I'm reading Joe Abercrombie's FIRST LAW trilogy right now, and he does an excellent job with chapter titles. Frequently they simply comprise a tiny snippet of dialogue that epitomizes the theme of the chapter or a particular character's development.

I think the most creative use of chapter titles I've seen is in Italo Calvino's IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT A TRAVELER, in which the chapter titles join together to form one long sentence. Very appropriate for a tale about beginnings.

Leila said...

I don't think they are essential but I like them. Sometimes they offer little teasers that make me want to hurry through the pages just that tiny bit faster than I already am (assuming it's an engrossing book) to see what's going to happen next.

And, like swampfox, I like to peruse the Table of Contents just to get a flavor for the book.

Actually, now that I think about it, most of the authors I've read who used chapter titles used them to good effect.

Others, like Khaled Hosseini, didn't use them and it again seems an appropriate choice for the overall feel/tone of his books.

Natasha Fondren said...

I love good chapter titles. It does depend on genre, though. And frankly, as a writer, I often leave them off. If I can't make them compelling and interesting then forget it. And if I don't have time, then... forget it.

Like Joseph said, I think the chapter titles should have an effect and a purpose. It's like every word in the novel should serve the story's purpose; so should chapter titles.

The Invisible Writer said...

I'm with Joseph L Selby on this one - a chapter title with a function or metaphor/riddle is so cool! But - sometimes the riddle gives away the secret of the chapter and that's not good.

For a fast pace book I really don't like 'em. Just leave me with the story and action please!

jscolley said...

It depends on the type of novel.

Joann Swanson said...

I love chapter titles if they fit the style of the book. GOING BOVINE is one of the best examples I've seen. Libba Bray's use of "In Which..." to introduce each chapter is unique, hilarious, and sets the tone beautifully. Of course Libba Bray is a genius, so of course she's going to choose amazing chapter titles!

fakesteph said...

Sometimes chapter titles work. For example, I loved them in Becoming Naomi Leon. And in Harry Potter they acted as a sort of teaser that made each chapter more fun to read the first time through. But if they don't serve a purpose, they just get in the way and end up taking me out of the story.

Katherine Hyde said...

I like them if they're clever. I especially love the quasi-Victorian kind, e.g., "In which the Space Monkeys raid a Seven-Eleven and Discover Something Not to Their Advantage." But if they don't add anything, nix them!

In my own work, I sometimes use them and sometimes don't; depends on the style of the book.

Allison said...

Occasionally I'll notice them, but for the most part I just ignore the chapter title or lack-thereof and plow on to the story.

Krista V. said...

Clever chapter titles are all right, but in my experience, it's tough enough to come up with one good title for the whole book, let alone twenty or thirty others.

If they're totally flowing out of your fingers as you're typing along, great. But if you're forcing them, you'd probably be better off without them.

Shayda Bakhshi said...

I can't think of them to save my life, but I love JK Rowling's chapter titles in all the Harry Potter books. She has a rare and beautiful gift for them.

Honestly, though, I don't usually notice them in other writers' works.

Perry said...

It depends on the story. I find chapter titles help when they fit into the style of writing. Chick Lit is a good example.
In a thriller, or any fast paced book, I don't stop to read titles.

Scott said...

Totally depends on the type of story, but I think they can be almost a form of poetry where you like the sound of it (intrigues you to read farther) but don't understand it fully until you have read the chapter.

Lord of the Rings chapter titles, for example, went on to inspire movie score track names, DVD chapter menu titles, and many other things because of their quality.

It's a way for the author to comment on his work to the reader, like an aside in a play. I enjoy everything from "Chapter 9: On Water Beetles and Saber-rattling, Including a Brief Treatise on the Qualities of Pseudo-Semantics" to "Chapter 21: Death from Above!"

chelle said...

I've always liked long, evolved chapter titles. Since buying an e-reader, I crave them. If I hit "go to", a chapter number just isn't enough of a clue to get me to the right spot.

John Baron said...

I like them when they're well done, especially witty, and don't give anything away, but I find these incredibly hard to do....

Also, in multi-POV novels (as was previously mentioned) they can be a life-saver, and if the story is skipping around through time or place titles can help start the reader off right..

Kristin Laughtin said...

I can take them or leave them, both as a reader and a writer. I like them if they're evocative and intriguing without giving too much away, or if they're humorous; either case will make me want to read on. But I hardly notice or care if they're not used, or if they're rather boring. I skipped right over them in JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORELL, for example, but liked them quite a lot in the Harry Potter books, and as someone above mentioned, found them quite useful in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Stephanie Barr said...

I not only like chapter titles, I like it when the put little quips at the beginning.

--Deb said...

I suppose I like them when they're well done, like that they can give hints (no matter how obscure) about what is to come. (Though, the chapter title "Phoenix's Lament" all but told me straight-out that Dumbledore was going to die in Harry Potter, and I didn't want to know in advance.) But at the same time, I don't miss them when they're not there.

When I'm writing, however? I always give at least a one-word title to my chapters because it makes it easier for me to find specific scenes later on if I need to rework them.

K.L. Brady said...

I've got to admit, I like them when they're clever, when they're goofy not so much. For example, I really like the ones in "Getting to Happy" and thought the ones in "Breaking Dawn" were kinda goofy. But that's just me. I don't do my chapter titles until the book is done, and only if I'm really feeling titles. I'm on my third book and so far 2 out of 3 have titles.

SSB said...

I title every chapter when I write. When I am reading, I love to figure out what words of the chapter makes the title significant. I view titles as a teaser, an insight of what is to come.

Sandy Shin said...

I like quirky, meaningful, and/or abnormal chapter titles; but most of the times, I don't actually notice them as I read.

Eddie said...

In some books, I appreciate chapter titles. Books like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter benefit from their chapter headings, which can ground the reader in a book as long as the former or illuminate the text as they sometimes do in the latter.

But in other fiction, particularly literary fiction which comprises most of my reading, I really dislike chapter titles. I don't even like numbered chapters most of the time, preferring simply a new page with the text beginning mid-page, as in A Mile Down by David Vann.

If they're used well, I do like epigraphs or quotations at the beginning of chapters.

gilmiller said...

I guess you could say I have mixed feelings. If they're well done, I look at them. The ones that get me are those such as John Maberry uses in his Joe Ledger novels, where they are not so much titles as times and locations. As far as my own writing goes, I'm horrible at titles so I won't use them on my chapters. Just numbers for me, thank you.

Tessa Quin said...

I love them. I always study them and see if I can guess how they relate to what's to come.

Dawn Pier said...

Like so many others here, I enjoy chapter titles when they are well done. As for my own WIP, I have titles for each of my chapters because they tell ME what is covered in that chapter. They just popped up while I was working on the outline. Not sure if they will stay or go. Some will definitely require revision if they stay, but some of them are fun or ironic or both. So maybe they will get to stay.

reader said...

Can't stand them. I think they are stupid, honestly.

I'm reading a good thriller right now and my only complaint so far are the chapter titles, which are alternating between on-the-nose and baffling.

Just say no.

lahn said...

It depends on the story. Sometimes I skip right over them or I'm fine with simple numbers. In some books, they really contribute to the story, by making you think about connections.

Sam Wood said...

I voted that I skip past them, but more accurately: I forget them. Or I can't keep them in my head (I'm making myself sound really absent-minded, -sigh-). Especially the ones that go, "Chapter Eleventy-One: In which this, this, this, this, and this happen." If I remember the entire thing, then I've got spoilers. If I do not remember the entire thing, then I'm inevitably distracted while reading because I have this urge to flip back every few pages and check my progress through the title list. Weird.

indie-grrl said...

I love the idea of chapter titles. They can be suspenseful enough to make me keep reading, even when I know I should put the book down--or beautifully written in a way that just enhances the manuscript. If I'm really absorbed in a book, though, I don't even notice them, and I hate when an author tries to be clever in their chapter titles, but doesn't quite get it right. It starts the next section of the book with a feeling of, "Oh. Why would I want to read about that?"

Personally, I only use chapter titles (and loooong ones) during NaNoWriMo ;D

karen wester newton said...

I say either do fantastic chapter titles or none at all. Titles like "At the bookstore" or "Mary makes a friend" are worse than useless.

Marice Kraal said...

Chapter titles need to add to the story in some way, the same way every word in the story needs to be there for a reason.

If the chapter title makes me laugh, or adds suspense, or cleverly sets the tone of the chapter, then it's all good.

Otherwise, just leave blank and get on with the story.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I've noticed a lot of shorter chapters and lack of naming in kids books lately (including YA)...trend?

Mi said...

I like chapter titles. I think some are very relevant and worthwhile, whereas others really suck. A lot.

Like, JK Rowling's chapters are good. Very good in fact. I always read hers.

But others are just....terrible. I can't think of any outright examples, but I certainly have read a few and thought to myself "yeesh, what where they thinking?"

amyashleybooks said...

If novels were ladies, then chapter titles would be eyeliner. Some can rock it and some can't

Lila Swann said...

I usually skip right over chapter titles. Two exceptions: I got Deathly Hallows on the night of the midnight release, and I read every single page from beginning to end. So I literally read the dedication, and then the chapter titles, etc.

I always skipped Twilight's chapter titles (they were usually one-word, vague blandness that didn't matter) until Jacob's part in Breaking Dawn. He had the most HILARIOUS chapter titles, and I enjoyed them very much. And once I realized that Stephenie Meyer actually chose her chapter titles as Bella would have chosen them, I went back and read all of the previous chapter titles and was sort of awed at how Bella-esque they all were. I'm not a Twihard, but I just found that sort of neat.

readingkidsbooks said...

I love chapter titles. If well done, they can tell you so much...kind of like a great pitch.

DeannaC said...

Not a fan. In fact it's something I just skip over.

ryan field said...

This is difficult to answer. From a stylistic standpoint I like neat clean novels that just keep moving forward without interruption.

But I've read great books with chapter titles. And from this poll so far, people obviously seem to like them.

I know I came in here for something said...

I like to see chapter titles because they suggest to me that the author has given thought to why the text IN the chapter needs to be thus demarcated and set apart.

Whether the title directs or misdirects the reader, summarizes what is to come or raises intriguing questions, a chapter with its own name lays claim to its own identity, its own main idea, as a building block in the argument of the story.

Thus there is awakened in me the further hope that the book itself has an overarching point to make.

Marva said...

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. I ignore. If an author gives me some verbiage, I pay attention.

Personally, I like chapter titles beyond numbers since I'm a fan of pun-ishment. Those readers who ignore my titles lose out on some of the fun.

Sommer said...

Most of the time I kind of don't like them. They distract me, like, "Ooh how does this random word play fit into this chapter I wonder?" and I go in expecting something that I'm probably going to be wrong about.

Or worse, the chapter title gives something away I'd rather have found out on my own.

I have seen some cool uses for chapter titles before when they serve a function to the story. I've seen them used well to indicate time/place when the passage of time or the moving from place to place is important to the story.

ClareWB said...

I like titles--and voted accordingly. But I'm really wondering what agents think! How did you vote, Nathan?

M Clement Hall said...

In non-fiction they have purpose, but not in fiction.

KM Fawcett said...

I don't care for chapter titles. They wake me up and remind me that I'm reading a book. I don't like being pulled out of the story magic.

Adam Heine said...

Well done chapter titles (especially if there's a table of contents) help me keep the story straight in my head.

Or even better, they help me find that one thing that guy said before they got on the airship, that didn't seem to mean anything at the time, but now I get it and I want to see what else I missed!

That said, though, I have no preference. I'll read anything. It's just that I remember a story better if the chapters are titled well.

ms.gail5325 said...

Yes, although I don't usually give chapt titles a lot of thought, they make it easier if I'm reading more than one book at a time. And if I am explaining the book to another person I can find the subject matter with ease.
Right now I'm more upset with not being able to log on Fri night.
uhmmmmm......ms.gail5325

Maya said...

Chapter 5: I love them when they are witty and intriguing, hate them when they are spoilerific!

Nan said...

I don't really notice chapter titles one way or another, except for Gene Stratton Porter's (early 20th-century Indiana novelist and naturalist) books, where her chapter titles read like this: "Wherein Freckles Strives Mightily and the Swamp Angel Rewards Him." I mean seriously...how can you resist that kind of an invitation to read on?

Dawn said...

It depends. Most of the time, if I'm really into the story, I don't even notice them. [Often I don't even notice the numbers!] But if there's a huge passage of time, or POV switch or suddenly we're "back in the 1800s" when we've been in the 1980s--I like a little heads up (nevermind why we'd be darting between the 1800s and the 80s)

Dawn said...

And I never use chapter titles of my own. I feel it kind of pegs me down and spells out something that doesn't need to be spelled out. (hopefully).

Ruth said...

I especially like the kind similar to the scene titles used in the sitcom FRASIER. Great wit.

Sheila Deeth said...

Sometimes I love them. Sometimes I ignore them. But I never hate them.

Weaving a Tale or Two said...

Personally, it depends upon the book. As a rabid fan of an incredibly popular series, I was one of the fans who go crazy trying to figure out what the chapter titles might tell us about the forthcoming book.

Except in that case, I don't really pay that much attention.

E. A. Provost said...

I don't miss them if they're not there, but I like them when they're clever. I love the way Stephanie Meyer changed her chapter titles in Breaking Dawn when the POV changed to Jacob. I don't have them in my WIP but if I think of something suitable and witty at some point in the process, I won't hold back.

Daniel L Carter said...

I love chapter titles mainly because of Robert Aspirin. His Myth series always had a humorous quote from a famous or supposedly famous person to go along with his title. When all you have is a chapter number I have no idea what to expect or where things are heading in the story. That may sound silly but I like to have little clues as to what is in store for me.

Blessings,
Daniel L Carter
Author of The Unwanted Trilogy

k10wnsta said...

The most common argument against chapter titles seems to have to do with leaving the flow of the story uninterrupted. But if that's the concern, why have chapters at all?

Chapter titles, when properly done, add fantastic accent to a story. Harry Potter was mentioned by other commenters, and it certainly contains some of the most well-conceived chapter titles in modern literature. But if you were to step back a hundred years and peruse The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, how could you not want to read a chapter dubbed 'The House of Death Floats By' or 'All Full of Tears and Flapdoodle'?

R Elland said...

I think it's up to the author in that it represents a style of writing. I enjoy them, though I can live with out as well.

In children's books for example, they can serve to give the younger reader a sense of what's coming I've noticed as well.

Furthermore it can be a humorous thing that gives one the sense of the absurd, or say in horror or dramatic writings it gives one a sense of the emotional content you may feel in the coming reading, further adding to the emotional content of the book reading.

Overall, it depends on the book and the author and I honestly think they still have a credible place in today's books.

Dominique said...

Some books I've loved them (Stardust by Neil Gaiman) and others I could take 'em or leave 'em (Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery), but generally speaking, I'm a fan. Strangely enough, though, for a reader who loves chapter titles, I almost never use them in my own writing.

Anonymous said...

When they're great, they're great. Whether they're quotes, original witticisms or just the name to clarify the speaker/POV. I like them best when they express something deep, funny and seemingly unrelated to the writing...until you finish the chapter. And then, "Wow, that was brilliant."
I tended to use them, but felt they were out of favor. Now I'm trying to remember what I deleted because WHO THE HECK CARES WHAT'S OUT OF FAVOR?! This is MY book, Jack. 'Kay, I feel better now.
Possibly I was being a wuss--oh, the pressure of being brilliant for 70+ chapter titles. (No pressure 'til I overthought the whole thing.)
Chris Moore's often astound me.
Them's my two cents, NickB

word ver: opaches: Members of the Apache Nation as lead by Oprah.

Jil said...

I dislike chapter titles as they are usually telling me what's ahead and I want to find out for myself. Especially in very old books which can list all the things about to happen and that really annoys me.
Chapter titles are an interruption An aggravation.
Hey, I guess I don't like them! (:

Marie R said...

I enjoy them when they're well done: adding a touch of mystery so that I'm curious about the chapter to come. The end of a chapter is a good place to put a book down, so if a chapter title piques my interest to read on, it has done its job. One of my favorite books with chapter titles is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

But the writing within the chapter can do that just as well. In that case, I don't particularly care if the chapters are simply numbered.

One thing I do dislike: poetry verses at the top of chapters. It breaks the flow of the story for me, as they are in a different voice and I need to shift mental gears to read them. I like poetry, so if I find the verses well-written, I'll skip them while reading the book and then go back and read the all verses straight through. Same goes for jokes/witty quotes at the top of chapters.

I've tried reading the verses/jokes first and the book last, but I have a bad habit of glancing below the title and ruining future plot events for myself. I call this my "wandering spoiler eye." :)

Old Salt said...

I use single/double word titles, as a way of indicating for myself that this is where the story takes another turn, and what kind of turn. Picture: Plunder, Discovery, Pursuit, About Face, Denouement. I haven't even told you what my WIP is about, and you already have a feel for the story. Granted, these are the standard parts of any good adventure, but how often do our readers actually think about that?

Matthew Rush said...

For me it depends. My own WIP jumps back and forth through time and space so much I find chapter headings to be invaluable, but titles I can take or leave, depending on how witty or hilarious they are (for reference I tend to enjoy reading them, but can't write them that way to save my life).

M.A.Leslie said...

I am on the fence about them. In the case of YA and Middle Grade Fiction I think that they aren't needed but a good edition to the story. I remember reading books as a kid and before I would read the chapter I would the title and try to find the meaning in the chapter. It was just something that I found to be engaging.

Now though, when it comes to what I read now, I think that they just get in the way. I don't know if it is because I have become impatient. So here I am sitting on the fence and my vote is for Yes in some cases and No in others. By the way with my impatience has come indecisiveness.

Becca said...

I only like them if they can be done well. I need them numbered, to keep me from going insane, but any farther, and it really has to be done right to make it good. And of course in saying that, I'm being picky, as "right" is subjective.

Like, to me, a chapter title lies around the same lines as song titles and episode titles. I hate it when they're like a quote from said chapter/song/episode. Sometimes I like them a bit more obscure, like outside references.

Long story short, I prefer them just numbered

Sandra said...

When used properly, chapter titles are an absolute treat and make me feel closer to the story/author as a reader.

But on a few occasions, after having paid attention to the chapter title and wondering as to its significance, I've been let down because either 1) I am unable to figure out exactly WHAT the author intended by the title (this tends to make me feel like I'm missing the entire point of the writing, which is not a good thing as it may make me think twice about picking something up by the same writer), or 2) I'm completely in awe of the mysteriousness of the title and strive to figure it out.

I realize this is a bit of a catch 22, but really, if I have a choice between an author who is a pompous twit with a fabulous story-telling gift or a newcomer with an equal talent who can relate to the reader? i will go with the new comer every time.

Stephanie McGee said...

I try to title my chapters, but it doesn't always work. As far as chapter titles in published books, I don't really pay attention. (Except in the Harry Potter books, because those were always interesting.)

Carol Piasente said...

Interesting topic ,,, I think of chapter titles as very old fashioned, and love them in those older books, but they seem extraneous and too "cute" in modern works.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Very interesting question. I like them when they seem to fit--my 8-year-old son loves them, as they signal either the beginning or the end of a chapter he's supposed to read.

They're kind of like headlines, but as noted, somewhat old fashioned.

The Autobiography of U.S. Grant, commissioned and published by Samuel Clemens, makes excellent use of them. They sometimes help to focus the reader, as a topical sentence.

But mostly, in my own stuff, I use merely Roman numerals--another somewhat old fashioned convention, but serving much the same purpose, as it shows the reader progression is being made...

Sorry. Somewhat distracted. Watching the Bears walk over my beloved Packers...

Ellen Faith said...

It depends.

As a reader I have no fuss. If the story is a page turner I don't even take note of the chapter titles.

As a writer I honestly find no need to them. One day maybe I will use them. But for now they're just there for the sake of being there.

Daniel Smith said...

I like them. When done right, they give a little flavor of the chapter ahead and a little pull to get me to keep reading.

Think about all the great title chapters just in the Harry Potter books:

Book 1, Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived
Book 1, Chapter 3: The Letters from No One
Book 1, Chapter 17: The Man with Two Faces

Again, when done right they can be very effective.

Micky said...

I usually don't pay attention to chapter titles, but when they're funny I can't resist. For example, the Percy Jackson series has hilarious chapter titles.
Chapter 1: "I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher"
I mean, come ON! Who can resist a title like that? Although I admit that I might be biased, I never did like Pre-Algerbra.

Terri Weeding said...

I love chapter titles if they are indicative of the writing style. For instance, "The House of Drainage, Embalming, and Beautification" makes fun of a somber place. Reflects the subtitle of the novel, a dark comedy.

Mira said...

I skip right past them, not on purpose, but just to get to the next part. I won't even notice them. But if I love the book, I'll read it again - sometimes right after I finish. Then I'll enjoy and savor the chapter headings.

Catherine Blakeney said...

I don't even like writing chapters, to be honest. My stories come out in a series of scenes, and I end up arbitrarily chopping those into 10-15 chunks of chapters around 5-10K words long as part of the editing process. The book, for me, is a linear and cohesive whole, and if it weren't for what everyone else thought, I'd leave chapters out entirely and just have my spaces between scenes.

Nicole MacDonald said...

Nah I don't like them or need them. Numbered is fine :) Least then I can say 'just till next chapter then I zzz'

http://damselinadirtydress.blogspot.com

Jane said...

If the book is flowing nicely and it can't be put down, then I don't find there is really any need to be looking at the name of the chapter I'm itching to read next.

Alex Beecroft said...

I wouldn't say they were always necessary. I like them when they're funny or witty and fit in with the style of the rest of the book, I don't like them when they just look pretentious. You're probably safer without them, unless you know you can really make them work.

Bibliophile said...

I like chapter titles in theory, but in practice I tend not to notice them.

Hillsy said...

I'm pretty ambivalent on chapter titles. But (for all you Potter fans out there) the best use of them I've seen is in a book called "Go Quest, Young Man" by K.B.Bogan.

Each Chapter title has 2 Titles and the second is a piss-take of the first while also sending up a Fantasy story cliche. The book is really brilliant, can't believe she never wrote anything else! Part Pratchett, part Potter, all good!

Kathleen@so much to say, so little time said...

I think chapter titles are great if they mean something, but they're not necessary. Sometimes I go back mid-chapter and try to figure out what the (bleep bleep) is the connection between the title and what's going on in the story. When I figure it out, I feel smart. When I don't, I just get irritated and wish they'd leave off titling.

Lee said...

There are such things as Chapter Titles? o___0

Hart Johnson said...

I particularly love clever ones in YA--Rick Riordan has the best chapter titles EVER, though I also remember spending time before the release of Half Blood Prince--CHAPTER titles were released and it was great fun to debate what they meant. In adult books they don't always seem necessary, but sometimes are nice.

Tom Bradley Jr. said...

Gotta love chapter titles. There's just something a tad more more creative about them than 1, 2, 3, etc., etc...

Perri said...

Chapter titles can set a certain tone. They work well if the novel is light or comic. I'm not sure they do much in more serious fiction.

I do love them though.... As my current project is both light and comic, I've enjoyed trying to set just the right tone with fun (hopefully funny) chapter titles

midnightblooms said...

I skip chapter titles. In fact I usually don't even notice when I start a new chapter, especially if the book has really drawn me in.

Chapter titles are something I notice after I read the book when I go back through and look at the table of contents and think "oh, I see what the author did there. Clever."

JenniferWriter said...

I like chapter titles when used in the following two ways:

1. To add humor, ie Diana Wynne Jones (HOWL'S) or Patricia Wrede (DEALING WITH DRAGONS).

2. To clarify POV, ie George R.R. Martin

lora96 said...

I love chapter titles when they are intriguing and well chosen, like in Oscar and Lucinda.

TraciB said...

The last time I even noticed anything at the top of a chapter was in the 80s when I was reading Robert Asprin's "Mythadventures" series. He used quotes to good effect; they sounded important and profound, but when read in the context of the story's action at a given point, they took on a humorous, often ironic meaning.

When done that way, chapter titles are good; they add to the story. Long chapter titles or those that reveal too much are simply a distraction.

Naomi Johnson said...

A good chapter title will suck the reader right on into the chapter to find out what that title means. My favorite chapter titles were written by Earl Emerson. He doesn't use them in every book, but when he does: SO effective.

Porter Anderson said...

This blog, Nathan, goes into your chapter titled "It's So Hard To Get a Rise Out of People."
:-)
-p.

Dara said...

I'll read them, but for the most part I don't pay attention to them. I certainly don't use them in my own writing; coming up with a book title is hard enough! To come up with nifty chapter titles every few pages...no thanks. :P

Two Flights Down said...

Usually, chapter titles annoy me, but they don't keep me from continuing to read. Once in a while, I come across a book where the chapter titles just seem to fit. So, consider chapter titles carefully.

H. N. Stone said...

I think chapter titles can be practical during the writing process, if only to allow easy reference to events that happen during that chapter. It's easier to find that chapter where cake leads to hijinks when you have a chapter titled 'Cakescapades', for example.

In terms of published books, I could go either way. If the author's particularly clever with their chapter titles, then more power to them. Certainly, they do no worse harm than possibly running the risk of spoiling a major event in a chapter. Usually, I find chapter titles most helpful in rereads and that sort of thing, when I'm looking for specific passages.

Debbie said...

Rick Riordon is a prime example of a writer who understands how to create a chapter title. His are hilarious and dead-on for his market readership.

Corey said...

Joan Didion uses them to good effect in the beginning of "Play It As It Lays." The novel starts with several short chapters each in the voice of one of the primary characters. Those chapters are titled with the person's name to clue the reader that she/he is the narrator.

I'm wondering about how chapter titles even began...Perhaps they trace back to when novels were serialized, eg. Dickins. Presumably each new serialized publication would have a unique title and writers adopted that practice for published full length works.

Cathi said...

I'm in favor of chapter titles, especially when they tempt the reader to read on to find out what they mean.

Gigi said...

I look at the list of chapters before I read the book. It's one way to pique my interest.

Kathy said...

I love them. But I have such a hard time thinking of ANY title (even title for the novel) there's no chance I'll ever have titles for each chapter.

Bill Swan said...

Chapter titles?

A simple Chapter 27 is best.

But if editors want chapter titles (and they write the cheques) they these must be crafted as carefully as a newspaper headline.

And editors may want the chapter titles to adhere to policy on title lines. This is common in children's books, I think.

Ganz-1 said...

I don't mind them. I like them if they're there since some serves as POV pointers it helps me to get into the right mindset before I start the chapter. If there're none, they aren't miss.

Anonymous said...

dickens. 'nuff said.

Kristi said...

Chapter titles would be nice if publishers would bother putting them in the page headers in the book. They make more sense when you can see what the darned title is as you read. But no, you get the book title and a page number. And I don't flip back and forth (unless I don't like the book anyway and am going to put it down). So they're lost on me.

Daniel said...

You know... I've been wondering about the necessity of chapters at all. Where did that structure come from? Granted if you're switching story lines from one character to another an asterisk break or simply a gap would work, but then you might as well do a chapter break. Still, I think the idea of chapters causes too many writers/authors to fall into the trap of preconceived structural norms. They become afraid of a chapter getting too long or being too short, which really it should just be about what best serves the story. Out with chapters, I say! Unless they serve a distinct function that makes the story better.

R. D. Allen said...

I love chapter titles to death! I feel like the chapter titles tell me something about the book and, in turn, the author. The chapter title sets the mood for the chapter, and kind of tells me what to expect.

As an author, I use chapter titles for various reasons. When I intended on using my novel, I'M SORRY, as a series, I used one word chapter titles for it, then used two word chapter titles for the sequel. When the sequel fell through, I used Japanese words and their translations for the chapter titles. For my current work, I find an interesting line of 3 or 4 words from the chapter and use that as the title.

I feel like it adds an intriguing, fun feel to a novel when the author takes the time to properly name each chapter.

Karen Woodward said...

I either love chapter titles or they irritate me and pull me out of the flow of the story.

One the whole, I like them ... now I'm wondering why I don't use them in my own writing more.

Anonymous said...

Love chapter titles. A teaser clue to the mystery, romance, adventure. Thrill me with Trivia. Go Liaden all the way. They do short stories as teasers. But love the worldbuilding trivia.

RB Ripley said...

Seems to depend on the book itself. To do so in an 80-chapter crime thriller seems a bit... gratuitous, perhaps? But for a 25 chapter novel whose focus is a bit more on using metaphor, investigating character, etc. it could well be magnificent device to enrich the overall experience.

Wendy said...

I love the way chapter titles can add a whole new dimension to a work. Sometimes they clue us into the upcoming plot points. Other times they add another layer of meaning or create a subversive twist.While a book title is important for drawing people in, chapter titles can be intricate and valuable tools to add to plot. After completing a chapter and after completing a book, I often enjoy flipping back and reading the chapter title again.

One book I've read recently where I enjoyed the chapter titles was "Fat Vampire" by Adam Rex.

theemptypen said...

I love chapter titles...as long as someone else writes them. They're clever and when I tell myself that I'm going to stop at the next chapter, they usually convince me that I really need to read just one more so that I can figure out what the title means.

However, I can't, for the life of me, write them for my own WIPs.

ria said...

I find numbers impersonal. Anyone can write Chapter 1, Chapter 2. That said, in a 200,000 word book with 80 chapters, I can see why the author would not bother with titles.

I think personal titles have a function beyond breaking up the prose. They can make the reader curious about what's going to happen in the chapter. I also think chapter titles can structure the work. I'm not sure how traditional it is, but one of my chapter titles is "Three Days Later," the last chapter is "The End." It's a bit meta, but it does give the chapter titles a function.

Laurie Boris said...

I like titles. I like reading them, and I like writing them. For some books. Where appropriate.

Clarity said...

Does I really don't mind count?

As long as they are good, subtle titles, they work. One can always sense when the writer has not thought them through. So... fine.

Monsterfresser said...

To me, it depends on the book a lot. It has to fit... A quote at the beginning of a chapter, for example, can be much more powerful than chapter titles.
Harry Potter, on the other hand, gains from the chapter titles, I think.

One of the factors it depends on for me is the length of the book, or rather, the number of chapters. By the time you get to chapter 72, you'll have run out of clever titles. I prefer if people just number them then.

Unless the chapter titles really have something to do with the chapter's content, or they are really witty, I'll probably forget them by the time I reach the bottom of the second page. They are useful for remembering where you were when you loose your page marker though... "Mrs Magdalene's Big Mistake" is easier to remember than "was it 19 or 18 now, or 29 already?"

A catchy chapter title can hook you just as well as a good first line.

Andrea Wenger said...

I use song titles as chapter titles of my WIP. The titles help me remember what's in each chapter, so I can find a scene if I'm looking for it. The titles also add a sense of fun. I'm leaning toward keeping them if (when!) the novel is published. But chapter titles should never be a distraction, and they should never give too much away. For instance, you wouldn't want to title a chapter "Dodging a Bullet" when the protagonist literally dodges a bullet in the chapter. Like any other element, the title should keep the reader engaged in the story.

Raywuwei said...

I don't like them in works of fiction, it makes the book feel very "young adult." But they're usually funny or interesting for autobiographies. I think they provide some continuity between chapters that the genre often lacks.

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