Crafting Chapter Titles

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Chapters don’t always need titles, but when they do, they can be tricky to craft. My first books, EVO Nation and EVO Shift, are sci-fi and urban fantasy novels and chapter titles didn’t match the tone of the books. However, my fantasy novel, Thrown to The Blue, is split into different POVs, and each chapter is defined by the character’s name and a title. I’ve never had to craft chapter titles before, and it has been a great writing experience for me.

Here are the top five lessons I have learnt as a first time chapter titler.

Write the chapter before you title it.

You can have an idea for the title, but after writing the chapter it may not exactly fit, and you don’t want to have to tailor the chapter to the title. Once you have read the chapter, you can capture the overall tone/ message. You may even find a phrase or quote from within the chapter that works.

Not every chapter title needs to follow the same style.

I noticed this a lot in books I have read of late. The titles follow a style of some sort- perhaps just three words: For example: Sugar and Spice, Gold and Silver, Hurt and Betrayal. If this works for your novel, then roll with it, but please don’t think this is a necessity. You can have some short and sweet titles, quotes, one word titles. As long as the title sums up the chapter, then I don’t think it affects the experience of the reader if the styles are different.

If you can’t think of a suitable chapter title, leave it, and return to it later.

Sometimes a title is glaringly obvious, other times it eludes us. Do not force a chapter title, let it simmer for a bit before setting it in stone. It may even be worth not titling your chapters until your final edit. You can read through the draft with fresh eyes and the titles may jump out at you.

Sum up, but do not give too much away.

This is where it can be particularly tricky to find a suitable title. Summing up the chapter doesn’t mean highlighting the key narrative point in the title. For example: If Freddie is going to die in this chapter, it is best not to title the chapter ‘Freddie’s Demise’ or ‘The Death of Freddie’. This may seem like common sense, but I have seen it done. The impact you may try to make with a certain scene will be dulled by the reader’s knowledge from the title. Finding the balance between summing up and keeping it vague is what I found difficult.

Think outside the box.

This ties in with all the above tips. Forget what you have read in other books. Your titles should be unique to your novel. Just because particular titles or styles worked for another book, chances are they won’t work for yours too. Forget about your preconceptions on titling chapters and work with what you have written within each chapter. It is the best way to craft memorable, interesting titles that are true to your novel.


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6 thoughts on “Crafting Chapter Titles

  1. I haven’t titled any of my chapters but it sounds like a very good exercise! If you know what your chapter is about and haven’t over-complicated things, it should be easy to summarise it into one, short line, right? In theory?

    Good luck with it 🙂 I’m going to summarise my chapters into one line each just to help me sort through what I need to move and where I could add chapters, so I’ll see how it goes 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Summarising the chapters is useful. I have done it with this WIP. I found it a little tricky to sum up, but not give too much away, and make it catchy. Every chapter is titled now, so I’m hoping I have cracked it.

      Good luck with your editing 🙂

      Like

  2. Since the chapter titles for my current trilogy seem to be more on the wacky side, I tend to just write a bunch of nonsense that I feel would make a good chapter title. When I get to writing a chapter, and I know the exact contents of the chapter, then I pick a title (or a more suitable title, if I was using a placeholder) from my list that makes sense with what the chapter is about. It’s like an exercise in bringing sense to nonsense. For example, the title for the chapter I’m currently working on is:

    If It Was Colonel Mustard, in the Library, with the Rope, Then Why Is Scarlet Holding a Candlestick?

    Works for me. Haha. For the sake of comparison, my previous chapter is titled:

    Betelgeuse Was Right; The Exorcist Keeps Getting Funnier

    Not all of my chapter titles are pop culture references, though. For one last example, my favorite chapter title, in my third book, so far is:

    In Nazi Twister, All the Colors Are German

    My purpose in these nonsense sort of titles is to, hopefully, interest the reader enough to want to know what the heck the chapter is about and how it relates to the title. In other words, I want to encourage the reader to really think about what they’re reading rather than read more passively and purely for enjoyment. I want reading to be something a person has to put a lot of effort into. I mean, if I can suck the joy out of reading for at least one person, then I think I will have accomplished my goal with this trilogy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Titling chapters is such a difficult job, but a fun one too. I’ve actually been struggling lately with naming chapters in my new draft of Pirate Eyes so this is rather timely! Lately I’ve gone for a pattern of using words or phrases in the chapter itself that hint at what’s coming.
    Not sure I’ll be titling the chapters for Eléonore.
    You’ve given me a few new ideas going forward. Thanks for the insight 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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