Balancing Your Chapter Titles

Back in 2016, while still writing and editing my first fantasy novel, I wrote a post concerning the pros/cons and naming conventions of chapter titles. Since then, I’ve learned more about the ins and outs of creating them. First, a chapter title must be true. An author should never title a chapter something like “A Stampede of Pink Elephants” when there is no stampede or even a mention of a pink elephant, real or imagined, within the chapter. This notion of truthfulness brings us to the next problem, and the reason that creating chapter titles requires writing and editing skills, too.

We may label this second can of worms “honesty to a fault.” Imagine a sub-plot dedicated to the romance between the main character, Mary, and the detective, Richard. Naturally, the pages spent building up the romance teases the reader and forces possibilities and questions to grow in his or her mind. Will one die? Will they break up? Will they get married? Perhaps the end of chapter ten is a cliff-hanging hook. Will Richard save Mary in time? Too bad you titled chapter sixteen, “Mary and Richard’s Wild Wedding.” The author created an honest title, but his/her table of contents is nothing more than an extended spoiler list of the novel.

Here are the chapter titles for Storm of Divine Light:

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Chap.  1 The Signs & Portents of Mage-Sense

Chap.  2 The Confessions of Brother Maynard

Chap.  3 Religious Relics Are People Too

Chap.  4 How to Roast a Goblin

Chap.  5 Secret Steps

Chap.  6 The Metamorphosis of Liberon

Chap.  7 Under the Stolen Kiss

Chap.  8 In Hot Pursuit of a Mouse

Chap.  9 Affection’s Afflictions

Chap. 10 The Last Wagon

Chap. 11 The Incredible Gnomish Vision Tube

Chap. 12 A Bloody Fragrance

Chap. 13 Soft Footsteps in the Dark

Chap. 14 Forks in the Road

Chap. 15 Suns, Moons, & Stars

Chap. 16 May the Light Shine upon Thee

Chap. 17 Something Stirs in the Wood

Chap. 18 Across the Queen’s River

Chap. 19 Ancient Rites Fulfilled

Chap. 20 Red Desert Rezzin

Chap. 21 Palatial Brevity

Chap. 22 The Price of Blood

Chap. 23 Golgent on the Horizon

Chap. 24 Weapons of Light

Chap. 25 Bulls, Ballistae, & Bandoras

Chap. 26 Guilder’s Gambit

Chap. 27 Stronghold of Shadow

Chap. 28 Full Circle

Chap. 29 Vows

I hope these chapter titles create an air of mystery and will entice the reader rather than reveal the whole plot of Storm of Divine Light. Of course, they are all truthful descriptions as well.

Do you use chapter titles when you write or prefer them in the books you read? Which chapter title of Storm of Divine Light intrigues you the most?

Don’t Go – Comment Below

Thoughts on Chapter Titles

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.

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Open Book by Dave Dugdale used under CC License

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?