Chapters are a great way to break up long books and quickly identify where you’ve got to. And they work equally well whether they are numbered or named or both. Yet readers are divided on this subject. Some feel the author hasn’t made enough of an effort if there is only a number. Others are repelled by chapter titles that might give the game away.
Is chapter number versus chapter title a battle that cannot be won?
Titles are attention-grabbing. They evoke interest and encourage you to continue reading. Or at least come back another day.
When I am too tired to manage another chapter, I always read the next chapter title. That way I can fall asleep imagining what might be about to happen. And look forward to my next reading session.
As well as giving a taster of the content, titles can help set the mood of a chapter. In my second book, The Lost Plantation, there is a chapter called The River of Watchful Eyes. This sets the scene as an unusual and discomforting journey, without actually telling you what’s going to happen.
There’s also convention. Children’s books usually have chapter titles so this has become a reader expectation.
In fiction, titles can be fun. This is why some books don’t have them. Thrillers, for example, often have just chapter numbers. They get straight down to business. Titles can be a great way to set the mood of a chapter. But for more serious books, dispensing with a title may be a better way to do that.
Non-fiction books usually need chapter titles. You don’t want to have to read the first paragraph to find out if the information you want is in that chapter. This may also be a reason some fiction authors choose not to use them. It’s a clear differentiation.
Some stories are written from multiple perspectives, or with multiple timelines and locations. Giving a title as well as a person, time, or place – or a combination of these – before the chapter begins, could feel like too much scene-setting.
The best of both
Some readers find numbers easier to remember than phrases. And a number gives you a clearer idea of approximately how far through the book you are. So when using a title, authors often include a number as well.
Plus readers may expect a chapter number, whether there’s a title or not.
What’s the answer?
Authors put a lot of thought into this decision. But there is no right or wrong answer. The best we can do is to go with what feels right. And accept that there will always be somebody who doesn’t like our choice.
Personally, I love a chapter title. But I wouldn’t be deterred by numbered chapters. I’m happy to go with the author’s decision and see how it works out. How about you?
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