There are many different opinions as to whether you should name your chapters. Opinions vary significantly by both writers and readers. So, should you name your book chapters?
While there is no fixed rule on naming chapters in your book, there are plenty of reasons to do it. You can use names if it works for the benefit of your story and communicates important or interesting clues to the upcoming story to help engage the reader and pull them in.
Should I Name My Chapters?
Newer writers may be asking this question if they are not sure if there are specific rules are surrounding the use of names in chapters. The good news is that there is no rule that you must follow to get a book published.
Applying names to chapters is wholly optional and comes down to the author’s personal preference. Using names for chapters is just another part of the art of writing an engaging book.
Many authors and others in the publishing industry argue that most readers do not particularly notice chapter names and therefore see little point in applying them. Unfortunately, some readers will not even notice the names, some will notice and not really pay attention to them, but plenty of readers will notice and pay attention to them.
Do not waste any mental energy thinking about that. It is something that you as an author probably should not even bother thinking about. Ask yourself if applying names works for you and how you want to divide your story. Apply whatever you feel is best for your story, and do not worry too much about what others say.
For example, as you write, you may decide you want to use the names as a guide for readers to know or have an idea of what is coming next in your story. You can use these chapter names to provide clear clues, subtle hints or timelines to help guide the reader or create more mystery.
It is also essential to realize this is not a one-time choice. You can choose to change the style from one book to the next. If having chapters with no names and just numbers works better for our next book, it is perfectly OK to do that.
When and How Do You Name Your Chapters?
Assuming you have decided to even have chapter breaks in your book, the next choice is how exactly do you name or number your chapters?
Some authors, particularly those who prefer to develop an outline before starting, will develop chapter names as part of the outlining process. Even if you don’t choose to do a very detailed outline, the names can be helpful as a guide for you during the writing process so you know where the story is going.
If you are having a hard time deciding on what the name should be, it is perfectly acceptable to just use numbers or, indeed, nothing at all as you write. You may find it easier to work out where the chapter breaks are and, therefore, what the names will be later once the whole draft is complete.
Even if you put names first, it is not unusual that you will see far better names that you can use as you edit and restructure once you finish the first draft.
You can ask yourself questions to help you decide how to name your chapters.
- For example, do the names have a purpose or not with the story context?
- Do they provide clues to coming plot points?
- Do we need to know any crucial locations, times or characters?
Keep an open mind as you go, or they can become more restrictive than beneficial. And do not be afraid to change your mind later if using names is not working for you.
What is the Purpose of Chapter Titles?
Picking names can be difficult. An excellent place to start is deciding if the names have a particular purpose.
They don’t need to have a purpose; they could mean nothing at all. It is acceptable to use simple numbers, spaces or a line to indicate a new chapter. Your chapters may exist for nothing more than as a convenient stopping point for the reader.
Some stories can benefit from carefully crafted names. You may want to create an extra bit of mystery or challenge for the reader by using some foreshadowing in the chapter title. You can use them to convey or conceal plot points.
If you have a book with many characters, locations, or a complicated timeline, you could use the chapter names to convey essential facts or details to help the reader keep everything clear. For example, your chapter could be nothing more than stating the character name to show who will be the main character appearing in the chapter or saying the place and time if the reader needs to know the timeline.
Use your chapter names to create suspense, build mystery, and do worldbuilding to enhance your story.
Creative Ways to Name Chapters
We have already discussed a few different ways to name your chapters so let’s just finish off by going over a few more ideas, starting with the standard options and then a few more creative choices.
- Numbers: 1, 2, 3
- Numbers written out as words: One, Two, Three.
- Roman numerals: I, IV, XIX
- Place, People, Time: Dr. Smith’s Office, Tuesday, April 1st, 9 am
- Nothing at all.
If you want to use the name to pull the reader in and wonder what this chapter is all about, you need to get a little more creative. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- A single word: Green, Funeral, Desperation
- A Short sentence (maybe on the theme of the chapter):
- Desperation takes over.
- A trip with Maddy.
- Detective Smith and the fool.
- Common starting letter (words or sentence):
- Green, Grabbing, Grief, Going,
- Granting Silence, Going South, Growth.
- A theme linking them all:
- Yellow Paper, Green Hand, Blue Sky
- Silence Falls, A Quiet Sidebar, Loud Retort
- Use icons or a picture. This is a little more unusual, but it has been done.
- Quote: Use a quote from the actual chapter
- Quote: Use an actual short quote relevant to the story, maybe from a book, story or poem.
Be careful of copyright and get approval before using anything in a published work (including free and paid!).
There are many different reasons to use names in your chapters, but the key reason is if you think it benefits your story. Do not get pressured into feeling like you must use them. If they do not seem to work for you, just drop them.
If you do like them, get creative and combine multiple options into something different. Good Luck!