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message 1: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 731 comments Mod
Hello everyone!
Both as a reader and an aspiring writer, I thought about chapter names. To use them or not, and why? When reading, I admit I don't give them much attention, until I want to return to a specific scene, especially in a longer book, when finding it by chapter number could be a long shot.

When writing, I found it really helpful. It makes going back to a specific point of the story much easier if the chapter names are done right. It makes it easier when I want to mention something that happened in the past and thus want to have a look at the mentioned moment. Truth be told, I can't imagine I'd work on my to-be trilogy without named chapters.

Yet, they are a double-edged blade. Bad choice of name could be an unintended spoiler or set up false expectations. Chapter naming is a pain for me (who generally struggles with naming in general) and it was definitely not easy to (so far) name 60 chapters in #1, 76 in #2 and some more in the barely-started draft of #3.

So, I wanted to ask what experience you have, if naming chapters can help you or not, and for how long story do you think they start to be actually useful (I, personally, doubt it for "one-day-reads"). And if you name chapters, do you use the name only, or both name and number?


message 2: by Timothy (new)

Timothy Skilton | 17 comments I like chapter names. In each book, I try to do something interesting with them that walks the line between a spoiler and meaningless drivel, and to me that means teaser. I like to have either a theme or to take a line from the chapter. In the book output, I favor number and chapter title. It can be very attractive and it gives two tools for finding something in the book.


message 3: by Leah (new)

Leah Reise | 356 comments Tomas, I like using chapter names for all the reasons you mentioned. I don’t think it hurts a book. I think they’re fun to come up with.


message 4: by Noor (new)

Noor Al-Shanti | 148 comments I use chapter names for novels as well. I just like to have them and like you mentioned they do help me look back at and find things in the story later. I think mine are vague enough as to not be spoilerish. They're pretty general things like "Kings" or "Meetings" or whatever, but for someone who has already read it that word will remind them of what important/key event is going on in the chapter.


message 5: by W. (new)

W. Boutwell | 157 comments My first book, with way too many chapters (40+) had pretty esoteric titles (Noman answers-referencing Odysseus) or very concrete (Lunch with the Girls).
My second book had few chapters made out to be a hand of poker (Ante, Shuffle, Cut, Deal, Bets, Show, Cashing out) with about as many subchapters of less obscure derivation.
My third book followed the trend with mountaineering mega chapter (10-14K, denominated Basecamp, Alpine Start, High Camp, Summit, Crux, Fall, Retreat) and fewer smaller subchapters.


message 6: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 1126 comments I like chapter names as long as they are short and have a hint of mystery to draw in the readers.


message 7: by Aaron (new)

Aaron Rath (aaron_rath) | 26 comments As a reader, I think I often don't even notice, or glance and quickly forget. The exceptions usually come in a book with some humor, where the chapter title contains a bit of joke, or sets up a later joke. Besides strictly numbers or detailed names, I've noticed some books where, if the point of view changes from chapter to chapter, the titles are just the name of the point of view character. (I do remember, and this is from 30 years ago, coming across one chapter title at 3 a.m. called "Interplanar Goo" and giggling for a good minute at what--at least at the time--seemed to be the funniest title I'd ever seen.)

As a writer, while I'm writing, every single chapter has some sort of description to it, specifically to help me keep track. I usually work in Scrivener, so the section name serves that purpose, but isn't an official title. If I was working in Word, I'd definitely use some kind of header with the same descriptive words, because that makes organization and navigation easier.

In my published books, I've treated chapter titles three different ways. In one book I had a lot of great jokes, puns, and parodies, so I happily gave every chapter a title. In a couple of others I couldn't come up with many jokes, didn't want to be dry and serious, and just stuck with numbering. For one 30-day motivational challenge book, each chapter corresponded to a day, and I used the day's topic as the chapter title, because it was simple, informative, and usable, whereas numbers or jokes wouldn't have been useful at all.


message 8: by Rosalind (new)

Rosalind Morris | 5 comments I think it depends on the structure you want and the story you want to tell. It would work for some stories, and would not work for some. In my second novel, each chapter is from a different character's point of view, so I named the chapters by the character who is speaking. Do what works for you and your story.


message 9: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 1126 comments Naming by PoV, was great in Game of Thrones, especially after the story was in progress, it brought up instant backstory. Really effective.


message 10: by Angela (new)

Angela Joseph | 132 comments As a reader, I pay scant attention to chapter names, but recently one of my critique partners began using chapter names in her latest work, and I found them very effective both in terms of being able to look back on something and as a teaser. But they must be creative and meaningful, as hers were. I am now using them in my WIP, and enjoy coming up with what I think are the right ones.


message 11: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4356 comments Mod
W. wrote: "My first book, with way too many chapters (40+)

My current work in progress has 112 chapters, 24 little "intro" pieces at the beginning of each part, and an epilogue. Oh, deary dear.


message 12: by Ian (new)

Ian Bott (iansbott) | 269 comments As a reader I don't pay any attention to chapter names. Thinking back to any given book, I honestly couldn't tell you whether it used names or numbers.

As a writer, I have so far used only numbers. I don't feel any inclination to name my chapters (naming the book, and characters, and place names etc. is quite taxing enough). I suppose I might change my tune if the structure of the story begged to have chapter names to tease the reader or guide them through the plot, but for me it would have to be obviously the right thing to do.

Regarding Tomas's point about making it easier to refer back to some point earlier in the story, I always break my MS up into a dozen or so separate Word docs, usually between 8k and 12k words each, to make them more manageable. I always give the files a number prefix to keep them in order, plus a meaningful name. This helps me find the right place in the story, but these names are purely for my own use, they never find their way into the end product.


message 13: by E.A. (new)

E.A. Briginshaw | 74 comments Most of my books are mysteries with a lot of chapters so I just numbered the chapters. However, in my lifestyle book called the "The Back Nine", I did find it appropriate to use chapter titles.

Yes, the book is about golf, but it's mostly about life after fifty. The first chapter is called "Wake-up Call" which starts off talking about getting up at the crack of stupid to get the first available tee time, but it also describes how life can unexpectedly be cut short, so stop wasting time and get on with it.

Many of the other chapters also have dual meanings related to golf and life. Some examples are "Staying on Plane", "Amen Corner", and "The Rescue Club".


message 14: by B.A. (new)

B.A. A. Mealer | 915 comments I name chapters in some of my book and others are only numbers. There is not logical reason for using titles for you chapter other than you like it and it may catch the attention of the reader. In my latest release I did chapter titles. It seemed to fit the Thriller/mystery type story so you see things like "First There Was one" then "Then There Were Three" as titles which sort of give you an idea of what the chapter is about. (these were murders). It is an author and book specific thing and I find titles fun when reading, but they aren't necessary. So go with what you want of like for your book.
(I loved the Interplanar Goo... wonder what it was...lol)


message 15: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Johnston (katherinejohnstonbooks) | 9 comments Chapter names can be a great tool to draw readers deeper into the plot. Stylistically I chose to elimate chapter numbers and only use chapter names in my book (to be launch next few weeks). However sometimes genre dictates interior book styles if you are attempting to be genre specific. Of course as an indie author you're free do chose what interior styles YOU prefer,...


message 16: by Zana (new)

Zana Hart (zanahart) | 13 comments I always name my chapters and I also notice names when I'm reading. Handy clues!


message 17: by J.N. (new)

J.N. Bedout (jndebedout) | 115 comments A chapter with no name is just another brick in the wall.


message 18: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 1126 comments I'm reading The Shadow of the Wind, paperback. There is no ToC (most physical books don't seem to have them), and no chapter names, just numbers. It works great. I haven't looked at the ebook which may be different.

On the other hand, my favorite book has specific chapter names.

I like both. I would probably go with chapter names on a longer work--or maybe none, and no ToC; may depend on the length of the work.


message 19: by Asha (new)

Asha | 1 comments Hello,
As a reader, I don't really pay that much attention to chapter titles. I read them and, yes, in some cases you do have certain expectations when you read the title. I think you need them if you're writing non-fiction and maybe books for children and young adults.
As a writer of children's books, I have used both the number and title. Example: Chapter One (and below that) Downhill. I tried to use something that related to the chapter but it didn't necessarily mean that's what the whole chapter was about. For instance, in my first book, I have a chapter entitled: Chocolate and Swimming, but the chapter isn't really about chocolate or swimming. Two characters enter a competition in which they have to write poems and those are the things they write about.
In the second book, I have a chapter named after a character because it's the longest chapter and she's one of my favourite characters.
We do worry about these things, but what do you like to see when you read the type of book you're writing?


message 20: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 731 comments Mod
Well, in case of correctly formatted ebook, ToC is not necessary as the reader will process it from header tags (sorry if I am not using the terminology correctly).

As for my own expectations... it feels right if longer books have chapter names. Yet, I admit it's just a feeling and there's no big reason for it. As other said, it can work as a set-up or a way to entice the reader further.

Maybe using the name to hint whether the next chapter will be action-packed or calmer is something that could help a reader to decide if he wants to continue - in cases when it's unavoidable to interrupt the reading (in my case, that would be needed to get off the bus/train soon).


message 21: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4356 comments Mod
I love chapter names. I can't imagine writing a novel and only using numbers for the chapter names. Boring! I love trying to come up with the perfect name for the chapter that will, hopefully, grab attention and build interest without giving too much away.

My first novel was about a rockabilly singer / guitar player and I named every chapter after a rockabilly song. That was a challenge, but so much fun.

This current lengthy work in progress has one hundred twelve chapters. Some are purposefully misleading, such as the first "Saltwater Finfish". The book has almost nothing to do with fish, but when the reader gets to the point where they find out why the chapter has that name, I hope they'll find some delight in it. Some names are pretty straight forward, such as "Two Blondes" in which two different blonde girls get the attention of the main character for different reasons.


message 22: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 731 comments Mod
I admit that as a metalhead, I named a few (four or five maybe) chapters of my WIP after a metal song (not always to the letter). Without spoilers, I can say that the prologue is named "Lifetime at War" after a Sabaton song of the same name and has two of the main characters reflect on what happened in the past 200-ish years and thus introduce the story and the different factions.


message 23: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 787 comments I name my chapters as I find its fun and a good way to let people go back to certain points. I usually do 10-14 chapters so I like to let them all stand out by giving them their own names. I choose a title that in essence explains the chapter but doesn't give anything away. If anything the title makes you wonder why it's called that so after you read it it makes sense.


message 24: by Haru (new)

Haru Ichiban | 255 comments Haha, so much imagination here. You guys are great.

I don't do chapters in my novels, but "Days". So it's Day 1: Name, Day 2: Name, and so on. And I've tried doing a little challenge to myself: when I wrote the first novel, as in "Novel 1", all days have a one word name: "Catalyst", "Dare", "Us". The only exception that confirms the rule is a Day named "Kingdom of Angels" I stuck in in purpose. (It also hints at that chapter being climactic).

For novel 2 I'll try two words names, except in two chapters. I wonder how much can I keep this up? (The series has already other eight novels in drafts!)

Only thing is, I wonder if readers will even notice...


message 25: by Alyson (new)

Alyson Stone (alysonserenastone) | 49 comments I really use them about half and half. It just depends on if I think they are fitting for the story or not.


message 26: by H. (new)

H. Glogau-Morgan (ddraigswife) | 8 comments I've put chapter titles in all of my novels, as I felt it was important to have them. It does make navigating easier and gives a bit of a teaser if phrased well. For the fan-fiction novella I'm playing with, I've chosen to go without - but that may change.


message 27: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments Ultimately ... it's unimportant really.

As you can tell from above, most readers hardly notice them even if they are titled. I'm the same way. I read the title, then forget it while reading the chapter. I don't read chapter titles in the ToC because I'll get to them as I read the book.

The only time it's become a positive thing for me as a reader is when I've liked the book enough to go back and look at them after reading the book, or perhaps late in my read. And only then if there's a sense of wit, charm, or outright humor in the titles.

OTOH, it's never been a negative for me, reading books with titled chapters.

So, I default to just using chapter numbers. But depending on the tone of the book, I have sometimes gone in later and added titles. Seems like books on both ends of the Casual-to-Serious tone spectrum are more likely to get titles. Ones that fall in between pretty much just stick to numbers.

Again, though, it's not really all that important. Just a matter of preference on a book-by-book basis.


message 28: by Pamela (new)

Pamela Beverly (writesistah) | 54 comments I've never felt the inclination to use chapter headings for my books but that's not to say I never will use them instead of or along with chapter numbers. As others have stated, you've got to do what's best for you and your book.


message 29: by SL (new)

SL Gibson (TTFN121) | 2 comments As a reader of fiction, I love to see chapters with names and feel they are part of the story. I like to see if it is reflective of the chapter itself, and or if I can guess why the words/phrase was chosen once I get to the end. I like to believe a lot of thought goes into giving a chapter a name. I can easily remember a part in a book when I can feel its connection to a chapter name more than a number.


message 30: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Gamble (wendygamblesf) | 12 comments SL wrote: "As a reader of fiction, I love to see chapters with names and feel they are part of the story. I like to see if it is reflective of the chapter itself, and or if I can guess why the words/phrase wa..."

That's exactly what I found, too, as a reader, and when I wrote chapter titles I did put a lot of thought into them. It remains to be seen if readers find the little jokes and connections.


message 31: by Anita (new)

Anita M. Shaw (anitamshaw) | 3 comments I seem to be able to come up with names for my middle grade novels without any problems. Usually they don't spoil anything. I have gone back to rename some that I felt did give away too much - especially the final chapters where you want to keep it secret for as long as you can.

I don't have a preference when I'm reading.


message 32: by E.A. (new)

E.A. Padilla | 14 comments I submitted my first two books for a competition with Writers Digest. The judge explained that for fiction, I was NOT supposed to use chapter names. The judge stated that chapter names were to be used exclusively with Non-Fiction and Children's books. As a result of that feedback, I went back into my first two books and removed the named chapters.

I also went back and reviewed my favorite fiction authors (Grisham, Clancy and Stephen King) and that advice seemed consistent with those books. At least for the ones that I reviewed to check. None of their book chapters had names rather numbers. However, JK Rowling does use chapter names. Although the Harry Potter series is popular with adults, I would venture to guess that it was originally intended for children and therefore, does fit with what the judge said.

Anyway, I thought I would pass along this information as it was explained to me.


message 33: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 731 comments Mod
The important question is: are formal rules of a competition based on what readers want? I doubt that.
If authors want to use them, they should not be discouraged from it.


message 34: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4356 comments Mod
Tomas wrote: "The important question is: are formal rules of a competition based on what readers want?"

No. Many of my favorite authors use chapter names, at least at times. Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Joseph Heller, and W.P. Kinsella all did and none of them were children's authors.

Bottom line - this is a stylistic choice and we (especially as Indies) shouldn't be bound by what other authors are doing, what publishing houses are doing, and certainly not by contest rules.


message 35: by E.A. (new)

E.A. Padilla | 14 comments I use top tier contests to help provide critical feedback about my writing with the goal of gaining the attention of literary agents, publishing houses and the like. I've been of the opinion that the main purpose and motivation behind the creation of these competitions is in hopes of these entities to find "diamonds in the rough"-fresh new authors. Although I agree with the notion that as independent authors, we certainly are not required to adhere to "others" rules. However, for those of us with aspirations of taking our trade to the next level of professionalism, listening to the comments provided by people placed in positions to provide feedback to authors may actually know what these agents and publishing houses are looking for. To that end, molding our books to fit the "format" of these people and adhere to the standards that they want to see isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it?


message 36: by Tomas, Wandering dreamer (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 731 comments Mod
Standards are good if they make sense. I can't see how discouraging chapter names affects the quality of a book, let alone if they believe it a good thing.
If people actively complained in reviews about chapter names, then I'd understand that. In the case you mention, it feels too much like a rule that someone pulled out of a hat for no reason at all. Creating problems where there are none.


message 37: by E.A. (new)

E.A. Padilla | 14 comments Let's beat a dead horse. I did a Google Search on this topic. The source I found is titled "Proper Manuscript Formatting" which states:

"Properly formatting your manuscript is important. A manuscript that isn’t properly formatted tells agents and editors you haven’t done your basic homework, you’re not providing your work in the format the industry requires, and makes you look unprofessional."

With that being said, the specific topic in this discussion is Chapter Headings. It states: "Chapter heading:

From the top of your first page, hit the enter key seven (7) times to create seven double-spaced blank lines. This will start your chapter about one-third of the way down on the first page.

Center CHAPTER 1 (or PROLOGUE) in ALL CAPS. Do not put extra space before or after lines of text. If you have a chapter title, center it below the chapter number."

So there's the answer. You can use titles if you like. However, there is an industry standard that is expected in the formatting, placement, etc.


message 38: by M.L. (last edited Jun 18, 2018 02:04PM) (new)

M.L. | 1126 comments Contests, agents, etc., have their own rules or standards. It's nice that the WD judge took the time to explain it instead of just tossing the MS to the side. If you are in the arena of contests, etc., read and follow the rules, otherwise, yes, out the window. If you are submitting to an agent, read the submission guidelines. If they want a certain font, use it. If you don't, it just says the author did not take the time to read them or didn't bother to follow them. If you're doing your own thing, it's still good to know there are standards aka rules out there so that if you are in that situation you're aware. That part has nothing to do with what a reader likes or does not like or an author likes or does not like.


message 39: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4356 comments Mod
According to Brian A. Klem of Writer's Digest:

"Start each new chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page. The chapter number and chapter title should be in all caps, separated by two hyphens: CHAPTER 1—THE BODY."


message 40: by C.B., Beach Body Moderator (new)

C.B. Archer | 1090 comments Mod
Every single chapter of every single book I have ever written has a Joke or Reference (sometimes both) for the name and it makes me happy.


message 41: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4356 comments Mod
C.B. wrote: "Every single chapter of every single book I have ever written has a Joke or Reference (sometimes both) for the name and it makes me happy."

Cool! Yeah, for me, it's all about doing what I love. I really doubt readers care that much how we center our chapter names, if they're named or not, etc. and it's not something I worry about. I'm probably pickier about my work than any reader anyway.


message 42: by Wanjiru (new)

Wanjiru Warama (wanjiruwarama) | 204 comments As a writer of nonfiction, I use chapter headings. Besides, they help me navigate and find my bearing in the ms. If I wrote fiction, I would still use the headings and possibly remove them during the formatting stage.


message 43: by Cristian (new)

Cristian Castro | 4 comments Hola grupo, soy escritor y como tal nombró los capítulos en el transcurso de la historia de mis libros, pronto estaré lanzando un libro de ficción y aventura, os anunciare por este medio


message 44: by Cristian (new)

Cristian Castro | 4 comments Vaya se me safo el dedo, lo que quise decir es que nombró los capítulos en el transcurso de la historia


message 45: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4356 comments Mod
Cristian wrote: "pronto estaré lanzando un libro de ficción y aventura, os anunciare por este medio "

No thanks. Self-promotion is against the group rules.


message 46: by Jay (new)

Jay Greenstein (jaygreenstein) | 249 comments E.A. wrote: "I use top tier contests to help provide critical feedback about my writing with the goal of gaining the attention of literary agents, publishing houses and the like. I've been of the opinion that t..."Be very wary of using a contest for writing advice. For a lot less than it costs to enter most of them you can buy a really great book on writing technique and get your advice from successful writers, publishing pros, and noteworthy teachers.

Contests are money makers. And the feedback you receive, unless you make it to the top, will be from very junior people, who—like a publisher's first-reader—can reject but not say yes. Your fee may entitle you to advice, but all too often it comes from a hopeful author like yourself. In contest where multiple judges score you for various functions, you'll often get praise in one area from one judge and a bottom score in it from another.

As Holly Lisle observed, “Michaelangelo did not have a college degree, nor did Leonardo da Vinci. Thomas Edison didn't. Neither did Mark Twain (though he was granted honorary degrees in later life.) All of these people were professionals. None of them were experts. Get your education from professionals, and always avoid experts.”


message 47: by E.A. (new)

E.A. Padilla | 14 comments Although I can see how some less reputable contests focus on generating money for those putting on the contests. However, for those reputable ones, it represents a good chance to gain the attention of agents and publishing houses searching for their next batch of new authors.

I'm hoping that for the competitions I enter, the "contest sponsor is looking for an original voice, solid writing and a good story. But if it’s a publishing house sponsoring the competition, salability matters most. They’re looking for commercial viability, quality of research and presentation, and media potential."

But obviously, choose your competition wisely. In my humble opinion, to even place, or better yet win such a top tier competition, represents most self-published authors best chance to take their craft to the next level.


message 48: by Jay (last edited Jun 19, 2018 11:27AM) (new)

Jay Greenstein (jaygreenstein) | 249 comments E.A. wrote: "Although I can see how some less reputable contests focus on generating money for those putting on the contests. However, for those reputable ones, it represents a good chance to gain the attention..."

Seriously? Any agent or publisher is awash in queries. The last thing they want or need is more of them from people they know in advance aren't ready.

Publisher's acquiring editors are not looking to teach people the basics. They are paid to identify writers who are ready, and who require minimal labor to publish.

The sad fact is that fully 97% of what's sent in to a publisher is viewed, in their words, as amateur writing. And the the vast majority of people entering contests are not in the lucky 3% that might get a request for a full manuscript submission were they querying that same publisher.

They're not looking for a "really good story." Plots are the easy part. There are only seven basic plots, after all. What they want is writing that grab the reader by the throat on page one and doesn't let go. In other words, writing that entertains and surprises on every page.

They aren't looking for people who are as good as those they now publish. They have lots of "just as good," writers, who have people seeking their name on a book cover. To break into the game, someone unknown must be so good that they will get the reviews that will make people look for that book when they shop. That's why a first book by a new writer is so often better than their second.

If you're hoping that a publisher will give you the, "Do this instead of that," advice that will make you a successful writer, forget it. It's not that simple. If it was, we'd all be rich and famous, right?

Do you want an agent to give you advice on how to get a yes from agents and publishers? Pick up a book on that by Donald Maass. You won't get a few suggestions, you'll get a while book of them, focused on the most common problems—the ones we all share.

Want a publisher's view? Sol Stein has a lot to say on that.

Want a great teacher's view? Pick up Dwight Swain's or Jack Bickham's books on technique and characterization. Both were respected teachers.

For the writers view, Debra Dixon, Ben Bova, and more will be glad to help

And...you can have all of them for about what it costs to enter a single high level contest.

Seems like a bargain to me.


message 49: by E.A. (new)

E.A. Padilla | 14 comments Let's assume the writer had accomplished the unimaginable-produced the book that did it. A home run! A complete 100%, without a doubt-a winner. Now what? Go the traditional publishing route and get in line hoping to crack the gate keeper? That's one way. What else?

The word of mouth referrals, purchasing advertising on-line (Amazon, Facebook, etc.), what next? Gain reviews through reputable review services and grass roots readers in general? Perfect, what else? Do more book signings, enhance your website, Goodreads profile, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media sources, okay what else? That's my point.

Presumably, those aspiring to reach the next level have done these things. Why so negative about the "potential" competitions offer to the yet to be discovered aspiring author? Are all competitions worthless with no value? Jay says 3% of those winners make it,...sounds about right. Most new authors understand the difficult journey ahead. I'll accept your "lucky 3%" number. Okay, better than zero. What's another viable alternative other than the obvious (become a splashing sensational best seller through the grass roots process). Without another option, that's the dilemma authors face. Traditional v. Self-Publish.


message 50: by Dwayne, Head of Lettuce (new)

Dwayne Fry | 4356 comments Mod
Hey? The topic is chapter names. Enter contests if you wish. Don't, if you wish not. Now, back on topic.


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