Chapter numbers or titles?

For the Critters workshop and writing SF/F/H in general.
  • Ads

Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit32566 » Fri Nov 04, 2016 8:53 pm

What do you think is better in a fiction novel? To see:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3


1. Through the Golden Door
2. The Problem with Kings
3. A Terrible Idea

This is just an example, but what do you think works better in a story?
Name: Joshua Freeman
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Aug 15, 2016 2:56 pm

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit32856 » Sat Nov 05, 2016 5:15 am

I think chapter numbers alone might serve to help a reader bookmark where they are, but probably aren't even useful for that. And I guess they are good for teachers assigning homework.

Titles are better, in my opinion. But optional.
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:15 pm

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit19292 » Sat Nov 05, 2016 10:47 am

Breaking up your text into thematic chunks helps your readers. Few have time for reading through a novel (God bless those that do). Chapter breaks is a nice way of giving your reader a good place to pause, and an easy method of returning to the story. Numbering the chapters helps a person keep track of where to return to.

I have had editors that did not want titles. They just wanted chapter numbers. That aside, I use titles when I believe my Point of View would provide them. If I believe the PoV would say things like, "All right, this is the time I 'Ran Fast through Raisins,'" then I use titles. If I have a more matter-of-fact type of narrator, I just use the numbers.
I will not deny myself having my opinions.
User avatar
Name: Roby Ward
Posts: 174
Joined: Thu Nov 18, 2010 1:53 pm
Location: North Louisiana

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit32349 » Sat Dec 31, 2016 6:59 pm

I think the choice is partly a matter of style and partly related to the needs of the story. Look at "Use of Weapons" by Iain M. Banks. That novel uses numbers, titles and Roman Numerals together. Once you read the story, the forward and reverse numbering starts to make sense. Numbering the chapters sequentially would have been a disaster, and titles-only would have offered little help or given away too much. To me it's a very elegant table of contents. In another novel, "The Player of Games," Banks uses sequential numbers and titles on the four chapters (more like sections, actually).

Here's the condensed ToC from "Use of Weapons".

1. The Good Soldier
[Chapters]: One, XIII, Two, XII, Three, XI, Four, X, Five
2. An Outing
[Chapters]: IX, Six, VIII, Seven, VII, Eight, VI, Nine, V
3. Remembrance
[Chapters]: Ten, IV, Eleven, III, Twelve, II, Thirteen, I, Fourteen
Name: Ray Franklin
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun May 08, 2016 5:55 pm

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit33075 » Sat Feb 04, 2017 6:15 pm

When I write chapters i use titles to keep my thoughts on track, but chapter numbers seem to be a clean way to present once published. In the end, I think it should be up to the author on how they want to present it. I'm toying with the idea of both....
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Jan 24, 2017 10:56 pm

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit20540 » Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:01 pm

Going back to the original list, I use

Chapter 1. Through the Golden Door
Chapter 2. The Problem with Kings
Chapter 3. A Terrible Idea

And, in addition, I have

Part I. The Egg that Didn't Want to be Eaten
Part II. A Chilly Reception in Hell.

So far, I haven't had to resort to adding Book 1. etc, but I wouldn't hesitate to--with added title, of course.
Name: Russell Adams
Posts: 10
Joined: Sat Oct 16, 2010 3:01 pm

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit33324 » Thu Apr 20, 2017 11:15 pm

I think both chapter numbers and chapter titles are equally reasonable choices. However, I personally prefer chapter titles. I believe that if chapters are well-named, they will stick with the reader better. Numbers don't stick at all.

Also, chapter names give an author a second chance at planting an opening hook. I like choosing tongue-in-cheek titles that can vaguely suggest what the chapter is about. My scifi novel (The Expanding Seas of Earth) has these (examples):

"Fight and Flight" - one key character struggles to escape an alien spacecraft rising out of the sea (and swallowing his ship), and is left bobbing in the ocean as it flies off.
"Who's on First" - my main character and her crew groggily awaken to discover they've been "sealed in" on their ship, but have no idea where they are or why - circumstances suggest they were hijacked by aliens.
"Hunter-Gatherers" - for the first time, the main characters have discovered a possible means to escape their captors.They scheme to "return the favor" - hijack the alien vessel that first hijacked them, and return to earth to warn humanity (i.e. become the predator).
"Braking and Entering" - Approaching the Kuiper Belt, they slow down and enter the Sol (Earth's) system. They orbit a small moon to practice using some of the technology they've found aboard the alien ship (they're gonna need it…but maybe not for what you think).

Okay, maybe not all that clever, but I think the readers can still make the connection between the titles and the action.Guess I'll find out.
Name: Jerold Tabbott
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Apr 20, 2017 3:32 am
Location: Earth

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit33524 » Thu Jul 06, 2017 6:22 am

It depends very much on the story. (I will say that I hate tables of contents that consist of nothing but Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. - but the objection is to the useless table of contents, not to the chapter breaks or labels.)

I tend to use chapter breaks for some sort of significant shift in the narration. And in such cases, the title can be used to communicate the nature and destination of the shift. For example, I have a short story up for critiquing this week that, in spite of being only 7,000 words, is in 9 chapters. Chapter titles specify the date and what part of the day it is - which in this case is necessary.

I strongly tend to not publish chapter numbers. But this is because I don't number things 1, 2, 3, 4. Instead I number them 10, 20, 30, 40. This is a habit I picked up very early in my career as a computer programmer, and the reason for it is that it makes inserting things a lot easier - when I'm done there might be chapter numbers 10, 15, 17, 20, 40 (with 30 having become 17). I suppose I could still name my chapters "Chapter 1" et cetera... but I don't.
Name: Don Edwards
Posts: 9
Joined: Thu Jul 06, 2017 4:09 am

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby crit33321 » Mon Jul 17, 2017 3:19 pm

One of the biggest reasons I use chapter titles is to entice readers through the story. I try and relate the titles to the content of the scene to give a reader clues about what he can expect in the pages ahead.

Of course, I don't WANT a reader to ever have a reason for putting the story aside, not even to pee or eat! Personally, I love stories with chapters that end with a cliff-hanger, something that makes me say, "Crap! I can't stop reading now, but man I really need to get some sleep before work tomorrow."

So I try not to think of chapter breaks as a place where someone might stick a bookmark, but rather as natural shifts in time, place, POV, or a decision point that leads to a different goal.

Hope that helps,
Last edited by crit33321 on Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Name: Morgan Broadhead
Posts: 16
Joined: Wed May 10, 2017 5:56 pm

Re: Chapter numbers or titles?

Postby shahw1 » Thu Jul 20, 2017 4:03 pm

Titles can offer another element to story or character, which is always a bonus. Where numbers offer a reader a way of keeping track of their progress. I don't mind titles or numbers, although if there are titles, I still want numbers.This is mostly so I can keep track of where I am on my Kindle. :)
Name: Shah Wharton
Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Jul 17, 2017 8:59 am
Location: Birmingham, UK

  • Ads

Return to Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writing