Is it better to title a chapter or just number it?
The gurus, sages and soothsayers of the publishing industry really don’t seem to have a clear answer on this subject. I’ve done some searching and still haven’t found a definitive answer. It all boils down to taste.
Even among readers this question can’t be answered. Some readers get enticed by the titles; it may prompt them to purchase the book, or to press on into the night way past bedtime. Other readers prefer numbers and imagine their own title.
It would seem like this is a parallel phenomenon to the character description conundrum. Some want a total description, while others want to create their own mental picture.
I truly believe this lack of concrete answers permits me to simply apply my own taste and work from there. Chefs do that all the time. They might add, substitute, or remove an ingredient based upon their own taste. I’ve admitted to doing that for some of the lovely meals from my Best Recipes Ever section on this blog.
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Personal taste time
I always skim through the table of contents when I’m browsing in a bookstore. Yes, I find the chapter titles to be a curious enhancement and enticement. They act as a builder of anticipation and help to give a coherent organization to the story. Each chapter becomes a mini-story in itself yet contributes to the whole. I think they are more telling than a blurb. Also, I have to admit that there is a unique charm that stems from chapter titles. After all, Tolkien did it, and it was his works that put me on the path of the fantasy genre.
Some naming conventions
A Place Name
Name a place where something important to your plot or main character is going to take place, like a clandestine meeting or a battle. This is great for fantasy authors, because you get the hidden benefit prompting readers to study the map of your world. Tolkien used this technique in The Fellowship of the Ring: Book Two Chapter V: The Bridge of Khazad-dûm.
A Character Name
This is a good way to introduce a new character or to shift the point of view. I’ve seen a few novels where different characters experience the same event and each chapter is dedicated to how each of those characters perceives or is affected by the event. Tolkien did this to introduce Aragorn under his alias in The Fellowship of the Ring: Book One Chapter X: Strider. George R.R. Martin does this all the time in the Game of Thrones series for different P.O.V.’s
Your Main Character’s Thoughts or Quotes
This could be a great retort, a simple quote, inner thought, or a surprise for your main character. From Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged comes Part III Chapter 7 “This is John Galt speaking.”
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In the end
I believe the bottom line should go something like this. Chapter titles are not going to transform a ho-hum novel into a page turner, nor will it turn a great novel into unpublishable trash. Just do what your artistic instincts lead you to do.
Do other authors prefer to create titles? As a reader, do you prefer them?