In Which I Discuss Chapter Titles

So… I might be a little obsessed with chapter titles. I love getting that hint about what’s to come when I’m reading a book. And it’s fun to come up with strange or witty or tantalizing blurbs for my own chapters. (Part of me wonders if this kind of micro-writing has the same appeal Twitter has?)harrypotterchapter

Some of my favorite kinds of chapter titles:

Victorian.

“Chapter Sixteen, Which is Full of Escapes and Discoveries” (from House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones)

A lot of books have Victorian chapter titles, many to humorous effect. I love the drama and/or whimsy of this kind of chapter title.

The List.

“Lost. Many Empty Rooms. Very Dusty Towels.” (from Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce)

Since Flora Segunda is told from the first person POV, we get a list of happenings like Flora herself might scribble down in a journal. Very tantalizing.

The Tidbit.

“The Boy Who Lived” (from Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling)

This title makes us wonder about the boy who lived and why he lived and what that means. It also comes full circle in the final installment of the series, making it the ultimate hint.

The Unexpected.

“Salad days, w/sneeze guard” (from Feed by M. T. Anderson)

Feed‘s chapter titles are often funny, poetic, or both. In this chapter, we read about the characters’ lazy days in a hospital, which Violet calls their “salad days” because she’s having fun. It doesn’t totally make sense, and we’re not told what “w/ sneeze guard” implies–it’s just funny.

One thing I don’t like: when a chapter title gives away the punchline. Sometimes an author will take the best line from a chapter–an ingenious metaphor, a funny bit of dialogue–and use it as the chapter heading. I inevitably feel cheated when this happens; the line ends up falling flat when I get to it.

What about you–what kind of chapter titles do you prefer?

cheryliconParker Peevyhouse  likes to write a random chapter title and see where it takes the story

14 Comments

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14 responses to “In Which I Discuss Chapter Titles

  1. I like chapter titles, but I’m terrible at writing them!

    My personal favs are from Harry Potter and from The Enchanted Forest chronicles by Patricia Wrede (hers are Victorian style AND HILARIOUS!)

  2. Hands down, Harry Potter is my favorite! She always blew me away with the chapter titles. When I was reading them to my niece she’d be so anxious to see what the next chapter was called and would try so hard to figure out what it meant. Of course that’s pointless most of the time since it’s something that happens in the chapter she knows nothing about!

    I like the intrigue of titles that don’t make sense until you read the actual chapter. Hmm, if only I could create those for my book, I’d be all set!

    Great post!

  3. I fail with regard to chapter headings (and illustrations). When I’m reading a book that I’m enjoying, I just don’t bother to look at anything but the text…and sometimes have no clue that there are “chapters” or “picture.”

  4. I like the witty and humorous chapter titles, if any are to be used. But I’m fine with a number.

    What I don’t like? Chapters that are continguous with the previous chapter! I want a blank half page, thanks.

  5. Oooh, I love all of them! I love when they are really clever and make sense after the text has been read.
    on my latest WIP I have some seriously boring chapter titles and may just go with numbers.

  6. Best sort: a phrase that readers assume is relevant to the chapter in one way, but turns out to have a deeper meaning by the end.

  7. Parker Peevyhouse

    I have to agree with all those who said they love when a clue from a chapter title clicks into place only after you’ve read the chapter.

  8. I think Rick Riordan has done an excellent job with chapter titles in his Percy Jackson series. The first one that comes to mind is “My Best Friend Shops For A Wedding Dress”, and considering the narrator is a 14 (?) year old boy and the best friend in question is a satyr (therefor male) it’s rather curious. That one starts off Sea of Monsters, I think.

    Personally, when I title a chapter I like to have more than one applicable meaning. In a chapter titled ‘Plagued’ the term refers to both the fact that the MC gets a really nasty flu, while at the same time someone (whom she’s told to get away from her) refuses to leave her alone.

    –Amethyst

  9. Oh dear, I’m afraid I’m like Charlotte — I’m like, “WHAT chapter title?”

  10. I like ‘em a lot — writing ‘em is even more fun than reading ‘em. Used the chapter titles in my next one, The Timekeeper’s Moon, in a new way, though — to give a hint of the chapter and also to subtly help the reader keep track of the days and the phase of the moon, which is important in the story. Challenging to not have those start sounding redundant.

  11. I LOVE chapter titles, but I find them almost as hard to write as the real title. And they can be so clever, if done right. One that I loved that you didn’t mention was dictionary words. They had a word from the dictionary, then its definition and it somehow pertained to what was going to happen in the story.

    I’ve also heard that once, someone used song titles for every chapter of their novel.

    Like I said – very clever people.

  12. Nykk

    I’m writing a comedic high fantasy novel, and a lot of my chapter titles are parodies of titles, characters or other miscellaneous things from other works of fiction, such as “An Unexpected Party Member” (The Hobbit – An Unexpected Party), “By This Stick, I Rule” (Robert E. Howard – By This Axe, I Rule) and Leadership Down (Watership Down).

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