Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Name Thyself, ye Witty Chapter!

In reading a blog post by Sierra Godfrey about 1star reviews, I got a little random in my commenting and mentioned trying to figure out “how to translate my ability to flip to the section I want in a paper book” to my Kindle. This then linked to the thought that people should use chapter names rather than chapter numbers.

I don’t know if naming my chapters this is something I would have done without having joined Protagonize. But, there’s something about having the Chapter title box, with the little saying “This is the title of your chapter. Make it catchy!” that makes me want to use words more than numbers.

And let me tell you, adding chapter titles with a hyperlinked table of contents and it’s pure magic! I have used my tables of contents many times A LOT. Most pf the time I”m looking up information to make sure I’ve remembered something correctly. Without those chapter titles I’d be lost. Even with them I’m sometimes a chapter or two off, still better than randomly guessing.

So now that I’ve exposed their value (to me at least) how does one come up with Chapter title? Sad to say they don’t name themselves, so why don’t I step through some my chapter titles, both good and mediocre, maybe some bad.

Firstly, some things to keep in mind: 
  • Strike a balance between hinting and giving away what happens in the chapter.
  • Stick to three words (not counting words like the, in, on, and, a, etc.).
  • Make it catchy! Similar to bullet one, but now it’s purpose is to make readers keep reading.

Secondly, some examples, 2 from each book of my Phoenix Trilogy

  • Scouting – As the title of the first chapter of the first book of the trilogy I feel it’s meh. It states what’s happening, but nothing really to pull us into the story.
  • Ambush! – Book 1 is rife with titles like this one. It tells us exactly what’s going to happen in the chapter, and while it doesn’t give the outcome, it does spoil the surprise.
  • Sarah and the Four Bears – I like this one because it gives reference to the story she ends up telling Bears children, maybe it could be better, but I liked it.
  • Amber Waves of Pain – I like this one for many reasons. There’s lots of layers to it, though the simplest is that Sarah is in pain an ends up dreaming of the grain farm she grew up on. It’s a title that clicks about halfway through the chapter; just like a good book title. (Plus I love titles that make me think of songs) :}
  • A Tour and More – Obviously there’s going to be some description in here, but what is going to be the more? Not a bad attempt at making the reader keep going. In fact I’m tempted to read the chapter because I’ve forgotten what the more is.
  • Playing Telephone – I like this one for the juxtaposition of the modern invention in an archaic world. (That and it was one of the few decent titles I could find that weren’t song related, like Wheels on the Cart.)
So there you have it; some examples of chapter titles. I’ve given my opinions on them. What do you think about them?

:} Cathryn Leigh
P.s. There’s still a part of me that loves the Moomin Tolls chapters that also contain a summary, but I wouldn’t use those in something that wasn’t a kids book. Using them, while writing. to outline your next chapter however... Now that proved useful for writing my 2011NaNovel, The Nurie. :}


  1. Chapter titles usually come fairly easily to me -thankfully, else I'd be in real trouble. I do think it depends on the book, though. Some books just suit numbers better - more serious ones, that is, like political thrillers and such. But for fantasy and the other stuff I write, I reckon titles are more fun. I like puns in mine - as you are bound to have noted!

    Sometimes I really want to go against the grain and write underneath "in which we discover that Florien isn't a morning person" or "in which Shard gives a long lecture about nothing in particular" because I'm in a contrary mood.

    Awesome post! :)

    1. he he thanks! I think those In which... you have there are awesome. They worked wonders in drafting The Nueri as I mentioned, but I do sometimes would like to use them for other chapters and the two examples you given only wet out appitatie (imo) because they beg the question of 'how do we find out Florian hates mornings' and um... maybe we'll just skip that chapter (sorry Shard). :}

  2. Summaries... you mean, like, "In which Snufkin and Moomintroll make a pact, the Snorkmaiden is horrified, and Sniff makes a discovery" ?

    1. Exactly! I would have quoted one myself, but since I was at work and all the Moomin books were at home, I couldn't. :}

  3. great post, I have trouble with ALL titles, the novel the names of characters and places, chapter titles, I spent more than two weeks calling my newborns Twin 1 and Twin 2 as I tried to find the perfect names.

    1. OMG, naming kids is so much harder. They would let us out of the hospital without naming the kids. Thankfully we planned ahead and picked names before the kids were born. They also came one at a time. :}

      With chapters (and the story itself) it's always easier, for me, to name after they are done. I dont' even try to name chapters in my first draft!

  4. Great advice here, Cathryn! That concept of hinting but not giving away too much is an important need just enough to make readers want to figure out the rest! I like the play on words and rhyme you use in a couple of your chapter titles...very catchy.

    1. Most certainly hinting is best. Especially if you like ending on clifhangers, you can hint that the resolution will be in the next chapter making the reader all the more eager to turn pages. :}

      Those are my favorite title types - play on words and rhymes - I love it when chapters allow me to do that. Or rather inspire me to do that. :}