The Egyptian Book of the Dead and book rock

Chapter Titles: Why They’re a Good Idea

In the past, novels had titles for each chapter, sort of like this: Chapter the XXIIIrd, in which Lady Jane drops her handkerchief in the garden and bumps into the wrong person while looking for it.

Not any more. In books — and ebooks — of the present day I generally see Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. Or simply 1, 2, 3. Sometimes it’s Roman numerals, (I, II, III) or spelled out numbers (One, Two, Three), but that’s about it.

Maybe it’s time to revisit chapter titles.

Books for children have never abandoned chapter titles, and with good reason. They help a reader navigate the book if he or she needs to go back and check something already read in a  previous chapter. And chapter titles are a sort of sneak preview, tantalizing without revealing too much.

Having read and published a number of ebooks in the past several years, I’ve realized that looking back for something you’ve already read isn’t easy. Sure, you can search words, but if you want to find a particular scene without a distinctive keyword, you pretty much have to try page numbers at random. That’s harder on the eyes than flipping pages in a printed book. I’ve added linked tables of contents to my ebooks, but that nice list of numbered chapters helps the reader only if they happen to remember that the scene they’re trying to find was in Chapter 5 or whatever.

Chapter titles, being memorable and mnemonic, make it easier to find one’s way around a book. Even short or cryptic titles (The Summons, An Encounter, Danger!) are better landmarks for the reader than numbers alone.

Then there’s that sneak preview aspect. Writers labour over their brief book descriptions to make them enticing without revealing too much. Chapter titles can be a whimsical supplement to the book description. Because they appear in the first few pages, chapter titles are seen by potential readers in ebook samples and previews.

My work in progress, She Who Comes Forth, frequently makes reference to The Egyptian Book of the Dead by E.A. Wallis Budge. It’s not surprising that its sixteen chapter titles were inspired by those in Budge’s work, such as “The Chapter of the Pillow” or “The Chapter of Not Dying a Second Time.”

Here are my chapter titles for She Who Comes Forth

1 The Chapter of Experiencing Departure and Disappointment

2 The Chapter of Experiencing Insult and Injury

3 The Chapter of Entering the Tomb of a King

4 The Chapter of Undertaking a Difficult Task

5 The Chapter of Meeting One Who Is Beautiful

6 The Chapter of Intoxication, of Tardiness and Triumph

7 The Chapter of Eating and Drinking in a Place of Mystery

8 The Chapter of Rising into Air and Falling to Earth

9 The Chapter of Experiencing Unpleasantness and Being Driven Out

10 The Chapter of Making a Crossing to the West

11 The Chapter of Seeking the Right-Handed One

12 The Chapter of a Passage in Darkness

13 The Chapter of the Red Dress and the Sharp Blade

14 The Chapter of the Heart and the Egg

15 The Chapter of Speaking the Truth and Hiding It

16 The Chapter of Going Forth

I had to be in the right frame of mind to make these up — not too serious. The idea is to hint, rather than specify.

After the heavy work of writing and rewriting, making up chapter titles is a way to celebrate and ornament your creation. I recommend it!

 

Advertisements

25 comments

  1. I keep toying with the idea of chapter titles, but with such canny readers out there I worry that even a ‘sneak preview’ or ‘taster’ might give too much away. If I do use them they’ll be quite criptic, posing more questions than revealing any potential clue or hint.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve seen this too. An author who does this would have to deal with copyright issues, of course. An alternative would be to make up the “quoted” material — yet another creative opportunity.

      Like

  2. I always use chapter titles, except in the 2-volume novel, The Termite Queen, where I used quotations, mostly from poetry, on each chapter. This necessitated getting permission to use copyrighted material in some cases, so be careful with that. I thought it was worth it for this book, though – I thought the epigraphs really enhanced the story. However, I don’t think anybody ever reads the epigraphs. Nobody has ever commented on them in a review. Disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have done that in a number of my books and I prefer it, but sometimes struggle to come up with succinct titles. I like what you said about leaving it to the end and using it as ‘a way to celebrate and ornament your creation’. Makes me want to do it more.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like the idea of chapter titles. I have used it in my unpublished children’s chapter books and in my partially written chick-lit novel. If it weren’t for blogging, I would probably never get anything ‘published.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are a way to establish the theme of a chapter, as John says, although not in a way that reveals crucial plot details. Blogging does compete with other writing projects, but can also supplement them. Wishing you success with your writing!

      Like

  5. Great post. It makes a lot of sense that chapter titles are a good mnemonic device. I admit that I am reluctant to use them simply because I have a very hard time thinking of a short title that seems appropriate for each chapter. But it does make me glad for my 11th-hour decision to add chapter titles to “The Directorate”, even if most are just a single word.

    I did once write a sort of mystery story where I deliberately used chapter titles with double-meanings in an effort to “trick” the reader and set up the twist at the end.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I love chapter headings. And subtitles. They actually tell their own story. When I wrote Camp Follower One Army Brat’s Story, I was advised that “non-fiction memoirs” should not have chapters, let alone chapter titles. Thankfully, I ignored that recommendation, and now my readers say they get hooked looking at the table of contents! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like the idea and have done it repeatedly. My historical novel chapter headings include date, time, and scene location. My 106 chapter picaresque story is four pages longer just because of the subtitles.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. They’re growing on me. I blame J.K. Rowling:D … one of my WIP’s has a quote from one of the characters as a chapter heading, or occasionally I’ll make up ‘sayings’ that are part of the world-building that otherwise wouldn’t make it into the MS

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like chapter titles and agree how hard it is to look back on a Kindle! All my novels have them; names of characters as they appear in the story, Christmas, Easter or hopefully tantalising headings such as Revelation! MY WIP is set in a specific time with our hero travelling round the country so I use dates and places. when I’m reading I like to keep track of when and where we are.

    Liked by 1 person

What do you think? Opinions welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.