Are chapter titles divine inspiration or a reader distraction?

As we attempt to get our head around writing the first 10 pages, chapter titles are the last thing on our mind, no?

Some argue that’s how it should be: create content first, add frills last. Others, however, will tell you that chapter titles are the book’s solid, structural joists and must be securely in place before the words go up.

Personally, I’m a diehard chapter-title girl. I want a book pinned down and titled with precision. I like structure and I also love balance. For example, if a writer breaks a book down into parts, I want equal “word weight” in each section or near enough. It’s not a strict writers’ rule though: Anthony Doerr (All The Light We Cannot See) mixes it up beautifully.

But what if I write short chapters –and lots of them? The concern must be, surely, that endless title chapters are a distraction to the reader? Not necessarily so. The trick is to deliver engaging, relevant headers. Stick to a slick one-liner style that kicks off the action and intrigues the person you want to wow.

The reader wants to be entertained and the reader wants to know what happens next. If you signpost your book correctly, no one will ever get lost

While opinion remains forever divided, it has to be said that creating chapter titles is a good writing exercise if nothing else. It forces us to highlight relevance, excitement, timeline, action and drama – if we can’t find the aforementioned, we’ve got a problem.

Ultimately, you don’t have to include chapter titles in the final version (see books, below, that haven’t fared too shabbily without them). Then again, you might think you can’t live without them. The choice is yours.

Here are some examples of books that do and books that don’t:

Chapter titles :)

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Doerr divides the book into “parts” and includes chapter titles.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Dickens doesn’t stick to a style. He plays around with one-word chapter titles such as “Dusk” and “Darkness” and also includes longer, poetic ones: “The Footsteps Die Out Forever”.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Flynn also divides the book into parts and needs to signpost using chapter titles because she uses a dual narrative writing style. The titles are a precise timeline and character identification –”Nick Dunne: Eight Days Gone”; “Amy Elliott Dunne: Nine Days Gone”.


No chapter titles :(

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.


You Might Also Like

    No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *