How to Use Chapter Titles in Your Novel



hey guys it's Ellen Brock novel editor today we're going to talk about chapter titles now there is no reason why you absolutely have to or absolutely can't use chapter titles I've had several writers ask me if they should be using them or if it's okay to use them it's always okay to use them but there's really no circumstance where you have to use them so it's really just up to your own discretion and what you prefer as the writer and if you think it suits your style and your book there are a few reasons why you might want to use chapter titles the first is if you're writing a children's book chapter titles are certainly very common in children's literature though it's by no means required I think that chapter titles can sometimes help kids to maintain focus or at least that is the idea behind the chapter titles but it is again not really necessary to do so but it might be a circumstance where it makes sense to use chapter titles another reason you might want to use chapter titles is to create an old-fashioned or a nostalgic feeling because chapter titles were certainly a lot more common in the past than they are today and it can give that sense of reading a children's book or of reading an older book and that may suit the style or tone of your novel depending on what you're going for another reason you might wanna use chapter titles is because your novel is in nonlinear order because chapter numbers sort of implies some sort of chronology or chronological order that events are happening in a certain way it can be helpful at times to avoid numbers and to use chapter titles instead you will see this fairly common in nonlinear novels but again it's not required that you do this but the chapter titles can replace the numbers and sometimes that can feel a little bit more authentic or natural in a novel where there's a lot of jumping back and forth in time now that we've gone over a few reasons why you might use chapter titles let's go over what chapter titles achieve so one thing that can be achieved by using chapter titles is raising a sense of mystery or intrigue about what will happen in the chapter a good example of this is in the secret garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett one of the chapters is called the cry in the chord or and this raises questions about who's crying and it has a very mysterious vibe to it that gets the reader excited to keep reading so even on a glance even before they've read the first sentence or paragraph of the chapter maybe they even turn from the last chapter and we're going to put the book down but they see this title the cry in the corridor and they're very intrigued and want to continue reading another good example of this technique is in geek love by Katherine Dunn she frequently uses chapter titles that get the reader excited and interested in what's going to happen in the chapter for example chapter 3 meltdown diving into teacups from the 13th floor and other stimulating experiences and chapter 11 blood stumps and other changes these chapter titles get us excited about what's going to happen and they raise a lot of questions and that can encourage the reader to keep reading chapter titles can also pull the reader in by promising the contents of the chapter and this is a very simple straightforward way that doesn't really say a whole lot but still gets the reader excited for example and half magic by Edward eager the first few chapters are titled how it began what happened to their mother what happened to mark and what happened to Katherine so these are very simple chapter titles but they get the reader wondering what did happen to capture in what did happen to mark and even though it's a really simple hook and it's repeated multiple times that promise of new information and that promise of plot development gets the reader excited to keep reading another example of fairly simple chapter titles is in Pippi longstockings by astrid lindgren in this novel chapter 4 is simply titled Pippi goes to school and while that isn't a particularly catchy or intriguing chapter title it works very well because the reader knows who Pippi is and what her personality is like so we know that we can count on some probably wild antics happening at school and something really intriguing and interesting is going to happen in the chapter and we can just based up on our prior information about the character chapter titles can also be used to promise information to the reader which can be an effective way to get the reader wanting to continue reading a good example of this isn't Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran for there are several chapters that are titled why I'm not where you are and each of these chapters seek to give a little bit more information and even though the same chapter title is reused it's effective at getting the reader engaged because the reader wants that additional information and wants to know more about the situation another good example of this is in the thing about jellyfish by Ally Benjamin there's a chapter that's called how to send a message and based on the readers prior knowledge of this novel that's a very catchy and exciting chapter title because the two main characters in this novel promised each other that they would send a message if one of them started to act like a mean girl and one of them surely does start to act like a mean girl and several times it's foreshadowed that this message is going to be sent and we know finally we're going to learn how the character decides to send a message to her friend that she has become a mean girl so there's a sense of payoff there and a sense that we're finally going to get information that we really want to know which is what this character does to this other girl to send the message so I hope this video gave you some ideas for how you can use chapter titles in your own novel again it's totally up to you if you want to use chapter titles and this was by no means an exhaustive list of techniques I just wanted to get you guys thinking about how you can use chapter titles creatively in case it's something you do want to try in your novel so I will be back next week with a video about successful query letters we'll be looking at some real world query letters that actually works and I will also be back with a video about plotting and how to move quickly from idea to outline so make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any future videos happy writing guys

39 thoughts on “How to Use Chapter Titles in Your Novel

  1. Also if you follow multiple protagonists, a chapter title can serve as an indication of who that chapter is following

  2. What if i put the number in the channel just because it helps me

  3. I am writing a Novella where the chapters alternate between two Point of Views. Would chapter titles be better than numbers?

  4. This was a great! It's given me an idea for an in-class lesson for my sophomore English class. We've been reading an older novel lately (T.H. White's The Once & Future King) and it only uses numbers for the chapter. I've been having the students mark up the chapters with bullet-sized page summaries and pretty literal and plot-based chapter titles (Example: "Wart & Kay go to the forest to begin their adventure.") Once they finish reading the book, I'm going to show them this video in class so they can start thinking about all the neat things titles do, and then have them go back and write creative, enigmatic, and thematically-linked titles for each chapter for future generations to enjoy. Thank you for the inspiring video. Keep up the good work, Ellen 🙂

  5. In older books you sometimes get a sort of 'this happens in this chapter' list after the chapter title ….. where did that originate, why would anyone do that and does anyone still do that?

  6. I'm writing a sci-fi action/adventure story in a very cinematic style since I hope to have the series adapted into graphic novels and eventually an animated series. As such, I use chapter titles in order to essentially give each chapter an "episode" title. Would that be a turn-off to publishers, even if the story hits on some very deep and dark themes that obviously cater to an adult audience? And just for an example as to what kind of titles I give them, they're usually just one word that vaguely hints at a common theme or major occurrence in the chapter, such as one chapter where a divisive issue splits the group of main characters up and is simply titled "Schism".

  7. Can you talk about biographies or books that are about a certain point in ones life

  8. Hi Ellen , Iove your videos.

    I think chapter titles are very useful to the writer when it comes to the editing process. I find them to be helpful when I am navigating back through the scenes, whenever a change becomes necessary.

    Also, from the point of view of a reader, I love them for helping me find those best loved passages or poems. If I had to rely solely on the numbers of chapters, it would become very problematic to find and revisit those verbal treasures.

    Thanks for all the wonderfully helpful information. You are a brilliant young lady.

    Best Regards

  9. I love the chapter titles in all Rick Riordan’s books. They’re always super hilarious. I die laughing every time I read a table of contents

  10. For my novel, chapter titles are a necessity because I'm using the Victor Hugo structure of storytelling. The first three chapters concern the three main protagonists and several important characters who live in five different places under different circumstances, have different goals, and have not yet met. Several story lines cross paths , separate, and cross paths again. In the first third of the novel, two of the main characters and two other important characters meet. By the middle of the story, all three main characters have met, but the story lines continue to separate and cross again. Toward the end, all the protagonists are working toward the same goal. Chapter titles are a vital guide for the reader.

  11. I feel like chapter titles are something you do for fun as you edit the book. Like as you edit and read through it you might realize a certain situation or phrase or something would be fun to use as a chapter title for that particular chapter.

  12. I read “Geek Love” in my American Lit class and it’s been my favorite book ever since. The writing style is gorgeous and the titles help keep the reader tracked during the time jumps. And they give a little taste of what’s to come. So good!

  13. I love chapter titles used for evil foreshadowing. Where the reader only understands it… too late! Oh noes!

  14. Using chapter titles helps to keep a reader grounded. It offers context and helps them reference back to prior story points….. as chapter titles will spark recall to those sections better than chapter numbers alone can.

  15. I would have thought, and always advise, to always you chapter titles where there are multiple POV. Otherwise it take unnecessary time at the beginning of a chapter, trying to determine who is narrating.

    However, I am an author not an editor☺

    Thanks for the vid. I like all you advise & have followed you over the years.

  16. Your videos are so good! I really appreciate the broad range of topics you cover, the examples you include, and the direct/informative content. Well done, once again!

  17. i decided to quit titles because they are basically spoilers hahaha

  18. What you said about chapter titles and non-linear novels reminded me of James Patterson's The Black Book. I don't have the book with me at the moment, but the book is organized in parts, with each part having chapters in it. The parts have titles, not the chapters, and they're titled something like "The Present", "X Weeks Ago", etc.

  19. great video as always, thank you. I would suggest reducing your lighting though, you pretty much wash yourself out looking whiter than normal and shiny

  20. One way I use chapter titles is to give clues. Only, the reader doesn't know they're clues until they read the entire book; a second read can prove more entertaining due not only to the attained knowledge of the mystery, but also to the discovery that the answers were staring you in the face all along ;^)

  21. It's true that chapter titles can help create foreshadowing and elicit anticipation, but tread carefully: you should avoid spoilers in your own titles.

  22. Another situation to use chapter titles is with complex stories. Chapter titles can help keep the reader connected to the plot elements and characters.

  23. An alternative way of using chapter titles is like G.R.R. Martin does, using the name of the perspective as the title.

  24. Hi Ellen, do you think you can do a video on how to handle the overall structure of a chapter and how to handle paragraph breaks. I know there are many ways to do it, but if you can do a video on the main different ways on chapter structure and how to progress a chapter would be incredibly helpful, thank you.

  25. I love using chapter titles! What you said about using chapter titles to create a classical or nostalgic feel is certainly true for me. I do have a question, however: would using chapter titles with a commonality be seen as childish or gimmicky to publishers (I'm thinking of Patricia Wrede's "Enchanted Forest Chronicles" and how she begins every chapter title with the words "In Which") and would that be considered a big turn-off when I am marketing a serious adult novel?

    I ask because in the example of the novel I am writing now, I am using alliteration as a commonality. Because the book is a middle-high fantasy with a rather "old" feel to it, I decided to base my book and chapter titling styles after Austen (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, &c.), but I made certain to deviate and experiment with different ideas as well.

    "Introductions and Incinerations" is the title of the prologue. The prologue introduces much of the main cast, and something of extreme importance is burned by both the protagonist and the antagonist.

    The first chapter is titled "To Dream of Dragons", in which the reader is introduced to the protagonist's recurring and prophetic dreams; one of those dreams centers around a fight with a dragon.

    As an editor, Mrs. Brock, what do you think of this approach to writing chapter titles?

  26. Hi there, I've just started writing and I'm on the 4th revision of my very first novel, but as a novice writer, I have a doubt about something.

    You see, I have a few pages at the beginning of the book (about 4-5) and a few more at the end (3 pages), that act both as a hook and as a wrap up of the story, but they are very short in comparison to the rest of the chapters and the book itself (always 10+ per chapter and a total of 285 pages on the book) so I don't feel like stating them as full chapters.

    At first i saw them as a prologue and an epilogue, but on some point I've read the definition of prologue, and I don't think that my hook is a prologue, since it is a part of the story, and I even read somewhere that most people don't even read prologues.

    My question is, how would I go about naming those "chapters" in a way that it's clear that its a part of the story, but also clear that it's not the same as a main chapter?

    My last idea is to simply name them "Beginning chapter" and "Final chapter" instead of chapter 1,2… etc. As a way to enclose the full book, but I don't know if that's the best.

    Thanks for your videos, they are very helpful! and sorry if you already answered this question or if it's obvious, I'm a very novice writer!

  27. A new video from you is a great way to start the day ☕🍪 And yes, sometimes I eat cookies for breakfast

  28. Is it a good idea for chapter titles to be a single word? I've seen television episodes do this. For example, an episode can be named "Confusion" and the plot involves the characters trying to solve a different puzzle. Is this a good way to name a chapter, or is it too simple?

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